You probably have heard that Iron Range institution Tom Rukavina announced his retirement from the Minnesota House of Representatives today.
For an assessment of the icon, there isn't anyone else I would turn to on this occasion for perspective than another Iron Range institution -- Aaron Brown. And Brown does not disappoint.
A man of Shakespearean depth, he also bears Shakespearean flaws. He will often bully opponents, especially when circumstances aren't going his way, and his lack of verbal discipline has gotten him in trouble. In classic Iron Range fashion, his loyalty to friends and family has also put him in situations where there are conflicts of interest. These flaws kept him from rising higher in politics or House leadership. But as I said before, knowing the back story helps. Rukavina rose to prominence in an Iron Range political structure where these flaws were marks of courage, winning votes rather than losing them. In another era, Rukavina likely would have been a governor, or a senator, akin to Huey Long or Floyd B. Olson. Instead, he becomes the most fitting example of a political and cultural tradition that built a nation but went through the wringer as the industrial age bowed to the information age.
I consider it an honor to have run the gamut with Rukavina -- having been supported, encouraged, cursed and rebuked by him at various times, for various reasons. That's really how it is for everyone who knows him. There's a reason people tend to love or hate Tom. He does not mitigate passion and conviction. He does not modulate. He has navigated a 26-year legislative career expressing himself exactly as he is, for better or worse, consequences be damned. He believes with every ounce of his being in regular people and has endeavored to help them as best he can.
I worked for the Minnesota House one session 10 years ago or so. The committee I was working had officials from Ford Motor there. Rukavina started his questioning with something like: you Ford officials and I have something in common. We both have constituents who make Rangers in the state of Minnesota. Just a throwaway line for Tommy but the place went up for grabs.