6 August 2021

NOTE FROM NORM: Foe and Friend

This past week an old friend, former political foe, and St. Paul institution, Chuck Repke, passed away after an on-again, off-again battle with cancer.  I can attest that having Chuck on your side was the best place for him to be.

Having him on the other side of you was not.

And, in the 13 years he battled cancer Chuck continued to fight in the public arena for the ideas, beliefs, and issues he cared deeply about.

I write this as the United States Senate is coming closer and closer to passing a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill.  Included in the bill, according to CNET.com, is the following:

  • Public transit, airports and rail: The deal includes $39 billion for mass transit, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail projects, $25 billion for airports and $17 billion for ports and waterways.
  • Roads and bridges: The proposal sets aside $110 billion for bridge and road projects, less than the $159 billion initially proposed.
  • Electric vehicles: The deal amounts to $12.5 billion total, which includes $7.5 billion to construct a network of electric vehicle chargers and another $5 billion toward electrifying school and transit buses.
  • Water, sewer, power systems and environmental remediation: The deal amounts to $201 billion total, with $55 billion toward water infrastructure (including funding to replace the nation’s lead pipe service lines) and $73 billion toward power grid improvements.
  • Broadband: The deal includes $65 billion to improve the country’s broadband system. The plan originally proposed $100 billion to provide accessible, high-speed internet service.

What does a bipartisan infrastructure bill and Chuck Repke have in common?


You see, during my two terms as Mayor of St. Paul, I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times Chuck, and his boss, former City Councilmember Dave Thune, felt the need to challenge any number of my policy initiatives.

Whether it was trying to reduce the cost of government, bringing an NHL hockey team to St. Paul, or any other number of initiatives, Chuck and Dave felt compelled to be the loyal opposition.

Of course, they weren’t the only ones.  But Chuck and Dave were two of the most consistent and challenging obstacles in the way of many of my efforts to make the City safe, clean, and affordable.

To be clear, they weren’t opposed to making St. Paul safe, clean, and affordable – they just had different ideas on how to achieve those goals.

Our political and policy conflicts were significant.  They were sometimes enormously contentious, and words were often exchanged between members of my staff and Chuck and Dave.  Many times, those words weren’t the kind that my Mom would have approved of had she been in the same room in which they were spoken or shouted.

Still, after the smoke cleared, we found ourselves getting things accomplished in St. Paul in ways that made the City safer, cleaner, and more affordable for more and more residents.

We fought, and we fought hard.  But we found ways to negotiate, compromise, and find common ground.

These compromises meant that neither side got everything they wanted, but some of what each side wanted would get done.  It wasn’t a compromise of values or beliefs. It was an acceptance that achieving the good meant something would get done rather than nothing getting done in the search for the perfect.

I have long advocated for greater investment in American infrastructure.  As a Mayor I believed that our commitment to infrastructure was essential.  As a United States Senator, I made several efforts to pass bipartisan infrastructure proposals to rebuild our critical roads, bridges, power plants and other vital physical plants and structures.

The infrastructure proposal before Senators today is not perfect, nor does it come without risk to Senators on both sides of the aisle.  For Democrats, it will be seen as not being enough to the far left of their party.  For Republicans, it will be seen as too much to the far right of the party.

For the American people, though, it will be a major victory for bipartisanship that will have real positive impact in their communities and their lives.

Whether there are future opportunities for bipartisanship will remain to be seen but this much is true:  The men and women who worked together, despite their differences of opinions, ideology, and approach, should be applauded for sticking with the effort to get it done.

I learned as a Mayor that you would be judged on what you got done. Being a Mayor was not about being in a debating society. It wasn’t a platform for global initiatives. It was about making a city safe and affordable, a good place to live and work.

Solving problems didn’t have to entail sacrificing beliefs. It simply meant an openness to listen to others and a desire to find common ground to move the ball forward -Chuck Repke and Dave Thune (and his fellow City Council members Dan Bostrom, Mike Harris, Jim Ryder, Janice Rettman and Jerry Blakey) were masters at that.

When I ran for both Mayor and the Unites States Senate my motto was “Bringing People Together to Get Things Done.” We don’t have enough of that in government (or politics) today.

Getting things done. It’s the way things used to be in government in America.  A day when you could disagree passionately about a policy without passionately disliking the people opposing you.  A day when no matter how uncomfortable the fight, or intense the disagreement, you could end the day with a handshake and wishing your political or policy opponent a goodnight.

The infrastructure bill as it stands looks as though it has a good chance to pass the Senate and, if approved in the House, would be signed by the President.  If it makes it through these next crucial steps, it will be a powerful moment for America and an important moment for the institutions of the legislative and executive branch of government.

Few in the United States Senate will know who Chuck Repke is or was in the world of St. Paul but those who fashioned the bipartisan infrastructure bill would be proud to know they are following in the footsteps of how he worked to get things done in the City.

A spirited fighter.  A passionate advocate.  A loyal ally.  A powerful opponent.

A man who never compromised his values or his ideals but was never afraid to compromise to ensure that his values and ideals were more than just words.

A great American.