Yesterday, Sunday, I attended the memorial celebration for Al France. Al was one of the movers and shakers in Duluth and in his late eighties at his death so this celebration of 300 plus looked to me like the power elite of Duluth twenty years ago. When I told this to Claudia, afterwards, she said forty years ago. That’s when we arrived in Duluth.
I had planned to attend. I’d known Al most of that time but was a poor west end Republican cousin to his elite east end connections. My efforts to unseat Rep. Mike Jaros were regarded as admirable but not considered serious by the Republicans of Eastern Duluth who, by the 1970’s, were themselves but a rump of what had once been a formidable organization throughout Northeastern Minnesota.
My last extended conversation with Al was an interview I conducted with him about his knowledge of the biggest Minnesota scandal of the Twentieth century for which Duluth had been the epicenter. That’s one more book I keep threatening to write. I’ll probably wait until all the witnesses who partook in it are dead to spare me a defamation suit.
A few days before the memorial Loren Martell called and asked me if I would be attending. He correctly presumed that I had known Al. I asked him how he came to know Al. Their acquaintance stretched back a quarter century to his and his wife Karen’s close friendship with Al’s son Ted and his wife. Karen and Brigitte France both taught with Ted in a Montessori school. Loren told me that the couples were fast friends which the memorial service confirmed as I saw the delight animating Ted and Brigitte as they greeted their old friend.
Loren told me that Ted had been one of his biggest champions. Their early years had been consumed with conversations about the nature and nurture of education. When Loren took up my torch and crusaded for a more sober appraisal of the Red Plan Ted was a big supporter. More recently Ted had encouraged his Father Al to begin reading Loren’s columns in the Reader. Al too became a fan. That was a surprise to me as I assumed that Al, like a lot of the well healed East-enders would have viewed me with suspicion for opposing the Red Plan despite their fiscally conservative instincts. The Red Plan always struck me as a flight of fancy by the well-to-do whose property taxes had been trimmed substantially by recent state legislation placing a greater tax burden on the lower orders. This is a two-way burden – more tax burden on the poor and reduced educational services for their children.
It was only after Ted’s moving testimonial about his Father that I began to understand why Al would have been sympathetic.
I bumped into a few folks before the reminiscences began. I suspected that many attendees harbored resentment towards me for criticizing the Red Plan but I could only identify a few for whom I knew this to be true. I chatted briefly with a former school board member and spouse both of whom supported the Red Plan and school board candidates that pushed it. I’ve gotten along well with them despite their head shaking over my position. I joked with the spouse that I was a bad penny showing my face once again. To this the spouse replied that my flowers (geraniums this year) were nice and after a pause added that my snow sculptures were nice too. I expressed thanks while mentally noting that my work as a school board member was conspicuously absent from the appreciation. It was a diplomatic appraisal of my service.
But why had Al bucked the East Duluth vibe after reading Loren Martell’s columns? It turned out that he shared a strong affinity toward something I believe.
In Ted’s account of his life there were several items that Ted thought summed up his Dad’s life. One was his extensive library with every book Winston Churchill ever wrote and his five compendiums of the French Revolution. But the key to the mystery was a framed poster exhorting people to help the Poles. That had me scratching my head but I had misunderstood,. The poster exhorted people to go to the polls and cast their votes and take part in their democracy.
That’s me too. My chief objection to the Red Plan from the beginning has always been the refusal by the School Board to let voters make the decision. It was not just a denial of voting rights. It was an unabashed expression of contempt for voters presuming that could not be trusted to make the right decision.
This is my very undiplomatic assessment of Red Planners: for ten years we have had Red Plan majorities on the school board who arrogantly wisdom placed a half billion dollar tax on voters and giving us in turn inferior schools.
Unlike the spouse of the ex school board member who was so diplomatic I can’t bring myself to paper over this catastrophe. I just want to undo as much of the damage as I can with openness, humility and honesty.
I took heart that a man I always respected turned out to revere our right and responsibility to vote. Would that School Board’s of the recent past had held a similar view.