John Marty: The Environmentalist

Colin Michael Simmons

Colin Michael Simmons

City Pages' People Issue celebrates men and women who make Minnesota a better place to live.

John Marty does not look like a man of the earth. Prim and bedecked in a bowtie, he’d look quite at home at a Princeton faculty soiree if he wasn’t betrayed by his slight Minnesota accent.

Yet for the next two years, the DFL state senator from Roseville will be manning the ramparts against a stampede on Mother Nature.

Minnesota’s wonders are in peril. In one seven-county area in the southwest, farm pollution has left lakes and rivers unsafe for fishing and lethal to thirsty dogs. Parts of the Mississippi are considered too noxious for swimming. A planned mine near the Boundary Waters threatens to leak such toxins that water will have to be monitored for 500 years.

And it’s about to get worse.

Last fall’s election brought Republican majorities to both houses of the Legislature. The state is now run by people who don’t just believe climate change is fake, but view devotion to Mother Nature as somehow emasculating, as if it will cause them to leave their wives and keep house with a nice florist named Rolondo.

John Marty will be standing in their way.

He’s the Legislature’s preeminent environmentalist, a man of reason, studiousness, facts. He now finds himself in a Senate where such talk is no longer en vogue. Especially when babbling out of a more southerly orifice is so much easier.

“You can’t swim on a summer day in the local pond,” he says of Minnesota’s predicament. “It’s too polluted. Slowly we’re polluting ourselves to a life our grandchildren are going to have.”

Marty thinks most of his colleagues actually care for Mother Nature. It’s just that their sugar daddies — business and farm groups and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce — are willing to sacrifice other people’s tomorrows for more expedient profits today. The GOP obeys.

“I don’t picture that the Koch brothers think climate change is a hoax,” he says. “But it’s in their financial interests to act otherwise.”

This state of affairs isn’t a one-villain act, Marty concedes. The DFL takes equal blame for its limp-wristed grasp of principle.

“We’re not as bad as the Republicans,” he describes his party’s message. “That’s a real selling point. Democrats have decided we can’t win if we fight for what we believe in, so let’s fight for something we don’t believe in.”

In the meantime, Minnesotans prepare for an assault on everything from water quality to light rail. Marty’s been at this for 30 years. He’s not about to cede the fight.

“They cut your head off and you get a couple of black eyes in the election, and you get up again. I can guarantee that if you don’t try, you’ll lose. I’m a hopeful person.”

Click here to see other entries in this year's City Pages People Issue.