Watch CBS News

Former U.S. Senator David Durenberger dies at age 88

Longtime Republican Sen. David Durenberger dies
Longtime Republican Sen. David Durenberger dies 02:49

by Pat Kessler

MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger, whose 1978 election upended Minnesota politics, has died.

Durenberger's family says he passed away at the age of 88. His influence is, in many ways, still felt to this day.

Durenberger exploded on the political stage in 1978, as part of what's known as the "Minnesota Massacre." The event catapulted Republicans into unexpected control of Minnesota's two U.S. Senate seats along with the governor's office.

In the 1978 elections in Minnesota, known as the "Minnesota Massacre," the Independent Republicans won many races, three of particular note: Rudy Boschwitz (AT LEFT), and David Durenberger (RIGHT) won US Senate seats, and Al Quie (CENTER) was elected gove
In the 1978 elections in Minnesota, known as the "Minnesota Massacre," the Independent Republicans won many races, three of particular note: Rudy Boschwitz (left), and David Durenberger (right) won U.S. Senate seats, and Al Quie (center) was elected governor. STORMI GREENER/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Durenberger served 16 years in the Senate, carving out a reputation as a national expert on health care reform.

He was a key player in the landmark Clean Air Act, which set tough new government standards regulating air and water pollution.

Durenberger also played a major role in civil rights for disabled people, as a force behind the Americans for Disabilities Act, the first federal law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities.

But Durenberger also had political setbacks. Censured by the Senate in 1990 for ethics violations over speaking fees and travel reimbursements, he did not seek a fourth term in office.

Close-up of Sen. David Durenberger
Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

In his later years, Durenberger criticized what he said was his Republican Party's hard swing to the right, especially under Donald Trump. He called himself a Republican progressive, of which he said few remain.

A long journey since that election night in 1978 that changed Minnesota's political landscape.

Pat Kessler discusses late Sen. David Durenberger’s career 02:53

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, issued the following statement on Durenberger's death:

"Senator Dave Durenberger was a true public servant. He was a dedicated legislator who was always guided by his devotion to bipartisanship and improving people's lives. His work to advance the Americans with Disabilities Act and prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities changed millions of lives for the better and made our nation stronger.

"When I joined the Senate, Dave showed me such kindness. He encouraged me to join the weekly prayer breakfast—advice that I took, and I am grateful I did. He also told me that despite the many hurdles, working to improve people's health care is always worth it.

"In Senator Durenberger, Minnesotans had a thoughtful leader, a passionate advocate, and a true friend. We are lucky to have benefited from his good work and his good heart for so many years. John's and my prayers are with Susan and his family, friends, and dedicated former staff during this difficult time."

"I am grateful to have called Senator Durenberger a friend," Gov. Tim Walz said. "His work on health care reform saved lives. He was deeply kind, generous, and honest, and he put his work on behalf of Minnesota above all else. He valued collaboration and bipartisanship in the spirit of improving peoples' lives – I will be forever grateful for his service to the state of Minnesota."

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan added that she considered Durenberger a "true friend and mentor," and that "as a leader, he always sought to show kindness to others and find the common threads holding us all together."

And St. John's University president Dr. Brian Bruess said Tuesday that "Today our country lost a patriotic American, Minnesota lost a skilled statesman, and Saint John's lost a great Johnnie." Durenberger was a 1955 St. John's graduate before he attended the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating from there in 1959.

The Republican Party of Minnesota released a statement saying "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Senator David Durenberger. Minnesotans of all parties and background will always remember his legacy of service to our state and nation. Our hearts go out to his loved ones, and we pray for their peace and comfort in this time of sorrow."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.