The County Chairman turns 89

If politics runs in my blood, it’s because of my father, Howard L. Turck.  He was the DFL County Chairman in Meeker County. The Farmers Union president. A member of the REA county board of directors, and probably chaired that, too, for a while. (For you youngsters, that’s the Rural Electrification Association, a federally-supported consumer cooperative that brought electricity to farms back in the 1930s and 1940s, when the electric companies wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t profitable enough.) County board of directors and chair of the board for “the Co-op,” back before it was renamed Cenex.

Dad never let me get away with sloppy thinking. I was nine years old when John F. Kennedy was nominated, and Dad challenged me every step of the way as we listened to Democratic National Convention on the radio.

Why do you want Kennedy to win? Just because he’s a Catholic? Just because he’s young? Those aren’t good enough reasons. What does he stand for?” I’m pretty sure he backed Adlai Stevenson up to the convention, but he campaigned vigorously for JFK afterwards — as well as for those Minnesota notables: Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale, Orville Freeman, Karl Rolvaag, Sandy Keith, Fred Marshall, Alec G. Olson. And he insisted that I think about issues, not just candidates: what the taconite amendment was, for example, or how a sales tax hurt poor people, or why unions were needed to defend workers.

When Dad said I was too young to attend county conventions, he still allowed to type his speeches, and then to help write resolutions. Eventually, I was allowed to go along on campaign expeditions, door-knocking or delivering campaign leaflets on one side of small-town streets as he worked his way down the other, carefully keeping me in view.

Both of my parents taught us that what is now called civic engagement was a religious duty. Voting might mean a choice between two less-than-perfect candidates, but it was still your duty to choose. If you didn’t like the choices, then, by golly, get involved and work for better choices next time around.

Four years ago, Dad watched Barack Obama’s campaign, and liked what he saw. “But he’ll never get elected,” Dad counseled early on. “The people outside the big cities are too prejudiced. I like him, but he doesn’t have a chance.” Then came Iowa, Obama’s big primary win, and an excited/elated phone call from my parents, with Dad ready to believe that hope and change had a chance.

Four years made a big difference for Dad. This time around, he can’t follow the campaign. Alzheimer’s has robbed him of the ability to follow campaigns or argue about issues. He still asks if I am “giving the Republicans heck,” and I say yes. I know that’s shorthand for what he has always cared about: taking the side of the underdog, defending human rights, working for a better world for all.

When he asks what kind of work I do these days, I tell him I am a writer and an editor. Then he asks me to send him some of what I’m writing. Well, Dad — here it is. Today what I’m writing is an article about you, and the great example you have always been to me. Happy 89th birthday!

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