Interview with Former Minnesota Governor Al Quie: Part One

Part Two Part Three Article: "State Policy Grew Out of a Spiritual Journey" (Run time 5:19)

Former Minnesota Governor Al Quie served on a Legislative Commission which studied children with disabilities in 1956 along with Elmer L. Andersen, who also later became governor. This Commission proposed special education legislation that was passed in 1957, requiring every school district to provide special instruction and services to every child requiring them, providing state aid and directing the Department of Education to assist districts and supervise special education programs. In this clip, Governor Quie reminisces about the Commission members, the hearings held around the state, and the decision to focus on people deemed educable, not trainable.

The workers who had done this job all these years shouldn't be the folks who came out losers in this. And this was going to be a better world for the clients, clearly.

What comes together are people and ideas, and finally if it comes to grips in the minds of a few people, I've always said six people can change anything, if you're really committed to each other.

And so we were a number of people, there were more than six on that, probably a dozen on that Commission, 10 or 12, and the fascinating thing was that we'd moved so far during that period of time of understanding, if we had only held hearings we had never done it.

But the fact that we went to the homes and went to the programs where some service was provided for developmentally disabled people, that was the key to it, because, then you see these are human beings and you can start recognizing value, and you gain respect, and you can't belittle them or scoff at them then, especially what people who have those disabilities are able to do to compensate for it. That is awesome.

We're talking to the mother, and then her statement was "Are you interested in what Mikey wants?" I thought that was just like a hammer hit me in the head (laughs) when that happened. What one needs to do is to respect the other person and then you can hear, because you hear with more than your ears, you hear with the whole person that you are dealing with at that time.

In the case of the developmentally disabled and how to add… we did not look at, when we studied this between the '55-'57 session of the legislature, about trainable, not educable, but trainable kids. And so talking to people in Sweden, I found that they had determined that they were going to develop a program to help trainable kids become employable.

And they thought they could have a huge success if they could get 25% of the children employable. It turned out to be 82 percent—82 percent, and what I realized right then you cannot do any kind of exams and studies and understand the full capacity of anyone, and give them the opportunity, the motivation and the goal to reach they will achieve it.

We started out when we set the principles on the commission with what the overall idea was first. And which was both the extremely brilliant, and how they could be challenged and motivated sufficiently, and then all the way to anybody with disabilities, and so what we decided, to begin with, let's begin with where we could have the greatest sense of accomplishment, and that was for the educable children. And we spent so much time on that, that by the time we had finished we didn't reach either of the other parts of it.

In the town hall meetings you asked about, we had people come who have experience and share with us, and so one of them that I remember was when Donald Bergland, who taught at St. Olaf College, who I knew from when I went to college there, and his wife came, and their daughter was severely developmentally disabled, and I remember I was struck there, that she was with them so much there in the college areas and the kind of person at that time would have been hid.

And so they brought her along and their testimony had such reality to it. The other one that we held, that really struck me is a professor from Mankato State who talked about this, who studied it , not only for developmentally disabled children, but the other children who were inadequately trained and developed in their childhood.

And I sat there thinking, 'cause we had small children at that time, that's wonderful, I've got to learn how to do it that way. So I asked him, I said, "Do you have any children?" and he said, "Yes, I have two boys," and I asked him how they were doing.

And he put his head down in his arm for the longest time and he raised his head up, and he said, "I just hope that we can keep them out of prison."

And that really said something to me, that a professional all… learning what a professional does, more than that is learning how to do that yourself as a parent.

The greatest thing that happened to me there was when I decided not to run again. And my chief nemesis was Roger Moe, who was the leader of the Senate and we became close friends. He carried my legislation for me, and to show that people who are at odds with each other can come together, and we still do, we're co-chairs of Minnesotans for Impartial Courts right now… that is a tremendous blessing.