One More Time

They say people who fish and farm can't elect a governor anymore. Tell that to Doug Johnson

During the acrimonious debate at the Capitol last fall over funding for a new Twins stadium, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe--who's now Skip Humphrey's running mate--damaged a long-standing friendship by accusing Johnson of steering an inordinate amount of political projects to his constituents up north. "I thought that was totally inappropriate," Johnson says. "If you really want to look at it, Roger's trains are longer than my trains. But the reality is we both wouldn't be able to hold on to our leadership positions if we weren't fair with our colleagues."

Still, there aren't many hamlets the size of Cook (pop. 680) that can boast a $1.5 million rural health-care grant to upgrade their hospital, or that have had a federally licensed heliport put in next to the hospital for emergency evacuations. The people at the Bakk household are eager to give Johnson credit for these enhancements, and Lund proudly includes the sprawling brick facility in his tour of the town.

Then he points the pickup north on 53 and heads for Orr, 17 miles away. We knock on the door of mayor David Glowaski, who turns down the volume of the auto race on television and tells us how Johnson helped rebuild Orr after a 1993 fire destroyed three buildings and four businesses. Bureaucrats who tried to block the town from dumping the charred ruins of the businesses were overruled, Glowaski says. Interest buy-downs were created and a tax-increment financing district was established. The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board also got involved with a grant. "Doug helped us in countless ways, and got it done without any additional [local] taxes or bond issues," the mayor explains. "He is a hell of a lobbyist; he knows how to twist arms.

Terry Gydesen

"Basically, we are a frontier town," says Glowaski, who is known locally as "Killer," a nickname resulting from a time in grade school when he responded to teasing from his classmates by announcing that he was going to get his guns and kill them. "The whole area up here is very free-minded, free-spirited. We are fighting the government forces continually. The white man only came up here around 1900. For those of us from the third or fourth generation, what we have is our heritage and our life. We have a hard time with the public taking our land, turning it into a national park and the wilderness area. For decades our families used that land and took good care of it. Now we can't use it, and we don't understand. Before 1978, the BWCA really was a wilderness; then the government designated it a wilderness area and all kinds of people come up here and create all sorts of problems.

"Let me put it to you this way," Killer says intently. "Our school district is 1,100 square miles, a huge area. Eighty percent of that land is owned by the government, mostly the federal government, with the Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. They've already got a million acres, and they want to take more. Our heritage is being run over in a way that is not that different than what happened to our Native American friends who are now on reservations out West. Doug has taken unpopular positions with statewide voters in support of us. Sometimes I think without Doug there would be no hope for us."

THE second person Johnson mentions among his three best friends in the world is Joe Puceo, a man he met when both were attending UMD. An avid outdoorsman, Puceo once took Johnson to Canada in his biplane in mid-April. The plane broke through the thin ice, and the two were forced to swim through the frigid waters to safety. About 10 years ago, when Puceo was flying to join Dougie at a remote camp near the BWCA, his plane crashed, killing him and severely injuring two passengers. "He's not here anymore, but he will still always be one of my best friends," Johnson says.

The third best friend Johnson names is Ron Jerich. Like Lund, Jerich is a garrulous, raw-boned good ol' boy with a fierce loyalty to Johnson. But Jerich lives in the metro area and is one of the most prominent lobbyists at the Capitol, a role that necessarily complicates his friendship with the chair of the tax committee.

Jerich is a lobbyist from the old school, skilled in the art of solicitous ingratiation, of trading favors with informal magnanimity without ever losing track of the scorecard. In the first six months of 1993--before the Legislature passed a gift ban that severely curtailed such generosity--he spent $63,000 on entertainment, food, and beverages for legislators, more than any other lobbyist. Over the years he has represented nearly every legal vice-oriented business, including tobacco companies, bar owners, and the video gaming industry.

When the private sector was asked to raise $125,000 to sponsor the Midwestern Governors' Conference in Minneapolis six years ago, Jerich co-chaired the project's government relations fundraising division. When the DFL needed to pay off debt caused by legislators using the state's long-distance phone lines four years ago, Jerich was there with a $1,000 check. When two members of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission recused themselves from voting on a $6 billion merger plan between NSP and the Wisconsin Energy Corp. two years ago because they'd discussed the matter over lunch with an NSP lobbyist, it was revealed that Jerich had set up the meeting.

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