By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
CAN A GUN–TOTING GOLD STAR MOM AND STATE SENATOR TOPPLE TIM PAWLENTY?
Becky Lourey wants you
by Britt Robson
PHOTO BY RAOUL BENAVIDES
Becky Lourey needs someone to open the door. The 62-year-old state senator and gubernatorial candidate is crouched on her haunches, readying herself to propel her cancerous, three-legged dog Buster into the front porch of her farmhouse in Kerrick, a town of 71 people located about 100 miles north of the Twin Cities. "I got him just after our son Nando died in a swimming pool accident five years ago, and he was such a comfort to me. I used to hold him on my lap and just hug him," Lourey says, gasping and grunting. Her own small body is now practically submerged beneath Buster, a huge beast—170 pounds back when he had four legs— of indeterminate breed whom she found at the Almost Home dog pound in Mora after he'd knocked down too many of the miniature horses that his former owners raised.
"Then, when Matt died last year, I went to Buster again, and I'd try and bring him back up on my lap. But he pushed away from me. He'd just been diagnosed with cancer and had had his leg amputated." By now, Lourey has succeeded in hauling the dog through the door, and it is sprawled across her lap, staring up at her with enormous, loving eyes. "I was trying to get comfort from Buster. But he was showing me that he was the one who needed to be comforted," Lourey says. "That's real, isn't it?"
It's certainly the right question. Because the more voters know of the real, unpackaged Becky Lourey, the better chance she has of surmounting the formidable odds against her becoming the next governor of Minnesota. The man Lourey hopes to unseat, Tim Pawlenty, frequently mentions that he is the son of a milk truck driver from South St. Paul, the kind of grassroots bona fide meant to connote "authenticity" out on the campaign trail. But politicians tend not to compare life stories when Lourey is their opponent. You don't match bios with someone who seems to have cribbed hers from Mother Teresa, Annie Oakley, and Job, touching all the bedrock themes of politics—God, country, family, perseverance through extraordinary adversity—along the way.
The colorful personal history is a distinct asset to a candidate who starts with only marginal name recognition outside her legislative district. Over the past 32 years, Lourey has been a farmer, a health care administrator, and a co-owner of small businesses with her husband Gene, the most recent of which is Nemadji Research Corporation, a data management firm that culls and collates computerized medical records from different levels of government so that public hospitals can be reimbursed for services rendered. (The company now employs 70 people in Minnesota and California and provides workers with full medical, dental, and disability insurance, plus an onsite childcare center in Minnesota.) She was elected in 1990 to the Minnesota House and in 1996 to her current position in the Senate, where she is chair of the Senate Health and Family Security Committee. Four years ago she ran for governor, dropping out after losing the DFL endorsement to Roger Moe at the party convention.
But before embarking on her second race for governor, Lourey was probably best known to Minnesotans at large as the state legislator whose son was killed in Iraq in 2005. Last May, her second-born, Matthew, died during his second tour of duty when the helicopter he was piloting was shot down. In March 2003, as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq, Lourey authored an antiwar resolution signed by 18 of her legislative colleagues. But she did not oppose her son's choice to go to Iraq. "Sometimes I've read stories that haven't been accurate about Matt," she says. "Matt believed it was his duty to go back a second time. He didn't have to go back. He had a pretty cushy job flying dignitaries around Washington. But he just felt he had to go back because he said, 'Mom, we are occupiers around there. We are just keeping each other alive, and I have more experience than anybody else.' Gene and his brothers tried to talk him out of it, but his wife and I said, 'Matt, this is what you have to do. You won't be happy anywhere else.'"
Later in the summer, when Cindy Sheehan was getting blasted in media for the protest camp she'd set up near the Crawford, Texas, ranch where George W. Bush was vacationing, Lourey traveled there (with former FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley) in a show of support—a rare gesture among the ranks of Democratic party pols with aspirations to higher office, most of whom avoided Sheehan entirely. Later still, Lourey alienated some of her compatriots when she became the sole state legislator to vote against a bill restricting the right of demonstrators to protest near military funerals. The bill was directed not at antiwar elements, but at anti-gay protesters under the direction of the notorious Rev. Fred Phelps, who had a habit of showing up at soldiers' funerals to proclaim that Iraq war deaths were God's judgment on a permissive nation. By Lourey's reckoning, any abridgement of free speech rights would insult the values her son meant to protect, and that was all there was to it.