See You In Court

Five years ago Mike Hatch was just another failed politician. Then a dying woman walked into his office, and a crusade was born.

When Kathy was almost 15, she went to live with her sister in New Hampshire. Not long afterward Hatch joined the merchant marine, working on ships around the Great Lakes. The experience, he says, forced him to mature. "In high school I didn't even think about what I was doing. In college, I had no clue: I dropped out several times. It was good to get out on the boats and see what the world is like a little bit, to see that people have more difficult times in other places."

Traveling the Great Lakes, Hatch had a ringside seat for many of the signal events of the '60s. He remembers being "stunned" by the plumes of smoke emanating from Detroit during the 1967 riots; sitting in a predominantly African-American bar in Chicago watching parts of the city go up in flames the night Martin Luther King was assassinated; going into downtown Chicago to watch the confrontations between police and protesters during the infamous Democratic National Convention of 1968. In the wake of Bobby Kennedy's assassination, he got into a fight with a superior who called Kennedy a "nigger lover," was thrown off the boat without pay, and begged his way to Cleveland on a Greyhound bus.

By the time he left the lakes, he was ready to become an attorney. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1974, he went to work as a securities lawyer for a law firm that did mostly corporate work. He also often rose at three a.m. and solicited business from the drunks at the jail to gain courtroom experience. His entrée into politics occurred that same year, when he worked on the campaign of a DFL candidate for the state House of Representatives.

By 1980, having established himself as a savvy insider and a tireless worker, Hatch had risen to the chairmanship of the DFL, restored the party to financial health, and--after initially supporting Spannaus in the 1982 gubernatorial primary--assisted Rudy Perpich's successful return to the governor's office. A grateful Perpich made Hatch his surprise choice to head the Department of Commerce, the agency charged with overseeing the banking, insurance, real estate, and securities industries in the state.

Combining pugnacious investigations of prominent corporations with a knack for consumer-oriented public relations, Hatch became a star of the Perpich administration through his six years at Commerce. In one noteworthy case in 1987, he conducted a study revealing that insurance firms, including the St. Paul Companies, were jacking up the cost of malpractice insurance at a time when the frequency and the amount of malpractice claims were going down. The issue attracted the attention of ABC News; Hatch's appearance on Nightline helped generate nationwide publicity and compelled the companies to cut their insurance rates.

In 1988 and '89, Perpich's fabled impulsiveness and eccentricity began sparking concerns about his political viability within the DFL. During this period, Perpich himself seemed unsure of his plans, appearing torn between running for President and seeking reelection as governor. (In the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that I was Perpich's speechwriter from November 1987 to August 1989.) After Newsweek created the nickname "Governor Goofy" in 1989, the anti-Perpich forces began openly recruiting alternative candidates. Hatch and Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe were the names most often mentioned.

Hatch, who had never made any secret of his desire to one day become governor, was coy about whether he would challenge his political patron. In August 1989 he said he would "under no circumstances" run against Perpich. Just four months later, he resigned his Commerce post; in a January 1990 speech, he announced his candidacy for governor, declaring that "nothing is more futile than blind loyalty."

The strategy backfired. Not only did Hatch lose to Perpich both at the DFL endorsing convention and in the primary, but his move generated hard feelings among many Perpich voters on the Iron Range, a constituency that otherwise would have been attracted by his populist politics and Duluth roots. Hatch compounded his political woes with another unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1994: Having run as a pro-choicer against the pro-life Perpich in 1990, he now subtly positioned himself as a pro-life alternative to DFL endorsee John Marty.

After a narrow loss in the primary, Hatch's once-promising political career was in a shambles. Despite his service as DFL chair and commerce commissioner, he had, at age 45, never been elected to public office and had managed at different times to alienate almost each faction of the party. Had it not been for Eva Claire Washburn, he might have spent the rest of his days practicing contract and securities law in St. Paul.

 

Get your affairs in order. You've got about six months to live. That's what doctors in St. Cloud told Washburn after diagnosing her with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, in the late fall of 1991. But at age 52, Washburn wasn't convinced it was her time to die. Taking solace from the children's book The Little Engine That Could and her Christian faith, she sought a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic, which confirmed the diagnosis and largely agreed with the prognosis. The Mayo doctors alerted Washburn to a research center in Little Rock, Arkansas, where doctors seemed to be successfully treating her kind of cancer with bone marrow transplants. After a thorough examination, the specialists in Little Rock scheduled Washburn for two transplants.

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