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When Republicans were Progressive

When Republicans were Progressive

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Author Dave Durenberger, Author Lori Sturdevant, Foreword Norman J. Ornstein

Minnesota Historical Society Press (September 15, 2018)

A history of a remarkable political party that saw government as a practical tool for creating conditions in which individuals can thrive and why its practices are needed today.


The Republican Party has dominated Minnesota’s politics for much of the state's history. Today's party, though, is very different from the progressive Republican Party that came to power with Harold Stassen in 1938, had its heyday in the middle of the twentieth century, and faded into near-obscurity by the 1990s. But from the ideas and ideals of that dynamic political movement sprang modern Minnesota's success story.

Issues that are anathema to today's GOP; environmental protection, assistance for vulnerable citizens, and economic opportunity for low-wage workers and the middle class were at the heart of the party's agenda. Minnesota Republicans held that working across the aisle was a mark of strength, not of weakness or disloyalty.

Senator Dave Durenberger grew up in and helped build that party. In this powerful work of history and witness, he explains how Minnesota's progressive Republicans earned voters' trust and delivered on their promises-and how progressive ideas fell out of favor when an increasingly anti-government, anti-tax national party shifted Minnesota Republican thinking to the right. In the ensuing partisan realignment, both the Republican and the Democratic parties have lost public trust. With eloquence and insight, Durenberger argues that the principles and practices of progressive Republicanism are a fitting remedy for what ails American democracy today.

Author information

Dave Durenberger is a retired three-term US senator and the retired chair of the National Institute of Health Policy.

Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist for the Star Tribune, has written several books on Minnesota history.

Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor for the Atlantic.

Reviews and news

In the media:

Star Tribune
MPR News Presents
Minnesota Monthly

Advance Praise:

“This excellent book reminds us that there is a different and better path that for many decades worked for Minnesota and the country. We need it back.”
from the foreword by Norman J. Ornstein

“Today’s citizens and politicians, both in Minnesota and throughout the country, would do well to read this book. Dave Durenberger and Lori Sturdevant show how progressive Republicans made Minnesota a state that works—and how Republican US Senate leaders found policy space between right and left to make the country better in challenging times. Politics is not a dirty word: it’s the way we figure out how to build a better world together. Minnesotans did it, and this country can do it again.”
US Senator Bob Dole

“Dave Durenberger provides a window into events, movements, and personalities playing an essential but previously overlooked role in Minnesota political history. His candid book shines deserved light on the influential progressive Republican movement that originated with the governorship of Harold Stassen in 1938 and shaped Minnesota government in subsequent decades.”
Steven Schier, Carleton College

“If the past allows us to better understand the future, then When Republicans Were Progressive lights the way to a more moderate party: one that truly values the future and the children who will inherit it. A compelling read.”
Governor Arne Carlson

“Dave Durenberger grew up during the challenging 1930s and ’40s. It was also the beginning of Minnesota’s progressive Republican Party. By learning and listening he developed an enthusiasm for and dedication to public service which he has never lost. This book is an inspiring reminder of the way politics is supposed to work.”
US Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker

“In 1990, by overwhelming margins, the Congress enacted major clean air legislation. It was the culmination of a ten-year effort led by a small bipartisan group of legislators that included Dave Durenberger. His deep knowledge of the issues and his strong powers of persuasion made possible what today seems impossible: Placing the national interest above party interest to enact legislation that benefits all Americans.
“Dave has written a book about the Minnesota Republican Party, and how it shaped him and his beliefs. At a time in our history when bipartisanship is so rare, Durenberger’s book should be of interest to all Americans.”
US Senator George J. Mitchell

“While looking back, Dave Durenberger captures what is needed to lead us forward: vision, conviction, and a dedication to the greater good.”
Kathleen A. Blatz, Retired Chief Justice, Minnesota Supreme Court

Related resources

DAVID DURENBERGER: An Inventory of His Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 296 pages
  • 24 b&w photos
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9781681340784

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