Former Minnesota Senator Dave Dornberger has passed away at the age of 88

Updated at 11:05 am

David Dornberger, who rose from central Minnesota to the US Senate, died Tuesday at the age of 88, according to his longtime friend and former chief of staff Tom Horner.

Dorenberger served 16 years in the Senate, earning a reputation as an expert on health care, environmental policy, and other national issues. His father was a coach and athletic director at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and his family lived on campus.

Born in St. Cloud in 1934, he worked as an attorney and worked in Governor Harold Levander’s office as an executive secretary until 1971.

Dorenberger, a Republican, was elected to the Senate in a special election in 1978 to fill Senator Hubert Humphrey’s seat after Humphrey’s death. Durenberger was re-elected in 1982 and 1988. He served in the Senate until 1995.

Durenberger chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee and a subcommittee on health and became an expert on healthcare policy.

Horner said he died of natural causes at his home in St. Paul.

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“Minnesota has lost one of its best public servants. I really mean it,” former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson said. “An outstanding personality, well-informed and deeply concerned about the welfare of others. It is a tremendous loss.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar has praised Dornberger’s work in the Senate, including his efforts to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. She described Dornberger as “a thoughtful leader, an enthusiastic advocate and a true friend. We are fortunate to have benefited from his good work and kind heart for so many years.”

Dorenberger and Carlson later became estranged from their party and sometimes supported candidates from across the political spectrum. Carlson said Durenberger enjoyed an independent role later in life.

censure by the senate

His time in the Senate also included scandal.

In 1990, the Senate voted unanimously to impeach Durenberger for his ethical violations related to $100,000 in speaking fees and to collect federal travel payments for stays at his Minneapolis condominium in the amount of $40,055.

Patrick Leahy and David Dorenberger

Sen. David Dornberger, left, adjusts Sen. Patrick Leahy’s tie as he speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington Monday, December 15, 1986.

Scott Stewart | AP 1986

Dornberger paid his respects to the Senate and his colleagues after the vote, According to The New York Times.

“I love this Senate and cherish the ideals it represents,” said Dornberger. “If anyone wants to judge my respect for the body and each and every one of you, I suggest they look at my actions over the past 22 months to bring this matter to an end.”

Soon after he was disciplined by the Senate, Dornburger chose not to seek re-election. He later pleaded guilty to misuse of public funds, and served a year’s probation in 1995.

“Relationships build one person at a time.”

In an interview with MPR’s Gary Echten in 2014, Dornberger said he felt the need to get things done while in the Senate.

“I don’t want to say I love the Senate,” said he, “that’s not the proper expression. But I learned early on to appreciate the fine gift of this office. And you don’t want to waste too much time, you know, making use of it.”

He said that while the legislation he passed was important, the relationships he forged with Minnesotans were what he found to be the most important part of the job. He said he gave this advice to other politicians.

“You’ll remember all of these relationships,” Dornberger said, “I built one person at a time, one incident at a time, one problem at a time, one challenge at a time. And I really have no reason to doubt that this is the best way for anyone who wants to get on.” public service, whether as mayor of St. Cloud, county commissioner in Stearns County, member of Congress or United States Senator.

“You want to remember how solid those relationships were, and how fulfilling you were on the commitments you made.”

While Durenberger continued a life of public service outside of elected office, he distanced himself from the Republican Party, yet indicated that he could not consider himself a Democrat. However, he has publicly endorsed Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 for president.

“He was a no-nonsense policymaker who didn’t follow the usual party cookbooks. You don’t see much of that in today’s politics,” said former governor Tim Pawlenty, who served as an intern in Dornburger’s office.

He has served as chair of the National Institute of Health Policy and of several national health committees and boards. He was also a Senior Fellow in Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas.

“I think about Dave Dornberger’s standard for policymaking in Minnesota in the state,” Horner said Tuesday, “that he always put public service above all else. It wasn’t about putting his name on a bill or program or policy. It was about doing.” What is right for the people of Minnesota.”

Carlson recalled his last meeting with Dorenberger at the St. Paul’s Café, which the former senator frequented. “He seemed to know everyone, and people would stop at the table and shake hands and talk. He thoroughly enjoyed it,” Carlson said.

“He loved public policy, and he loved people,” Carlson added. “And he loved the public discussion about what we could do in elected office to make life better for more people. He was engaged. I think people walked away feeling that he loved them and they loved him.”

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