About Rudolph George "Rudy" Perpich (Prpić), Sr.
Rudolph George "Rudy" Perpich, Sr. (June 27, 1928 – September 21, 1995) was an American politician and the longest-serving governor of Minnesota. A member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, he served as the 34th and 36th Governor of Minnesota from December 29, 1976 to January 4, 1979, and from January 3, 1983, to January 7, 1991. He was also the state's only Roman Catholic governor and the only one to serve non-consecutive terms. Before entering politics, he was a dentist.
Early life and education
Rudolph George Prpić was born in Carson Lake, Minnesota, which is now part of Hibbing, Minnesota. His father, Anton Prpić, was a miner who had immigrated from Croatia to the Mesabi Iron Range of Minnesota, and his mother was an American of Croatian descent. Perpich did not learn to speak English until at least the first grade of elementary school. At 14, he began working for the Great Northern Railway. In 1946, he graduated from Hibbing High School (where he was inaugurated as governor in 1983) and went on to serve in the United States Army for two years. After Army service, he attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and graduated from the Marquette University Dental School in 1954. He returned to Hibbing to practice dentistry.
Entry into politics
Perpich first entered into politics by serving on the Hibbing school board in 1955 and 1956. The board gained notability for instituting a policy to provide equal pay to both male and female workers. In 1962, he was elected to the Minnesota Senate, representing the old 63rd District, which included portions of St. Louis County in the northeastern part of the state. He was re-elected in 1966.
In 1970, Perpich was elected the 39th lieutenant governor of Minnesota. He was re-elected in 1974 on a ticket with Governor Wendell Anderson. (Prior to 1974, the governor and lieutenant governor were elected separately.) He became governor when Anderson resigned in 1976 to take the United States Senate seat vacated by Walter Mondale, who had been elected Vice President of the United States. He thus became the first Iron Range resident to hold the office.
Nearly the entire DFL Party ticket was defeated in 1978, including Perpich and the candidates for both U.S. Senate seats. Governor Anderson's arrangement to have himself appointed to the Senate and Perpich's role in that appointment were deemed factors in those defeats.
Perpich worked at Control Data Corporation in New York and Austria for several years until winning back the governor's office in 1982, when he challenged the DFL Party's endorsed candidate, Warren Spannaus and won the primary election. Perpich served as the Chairman of the Midwestern Governors Association in 1984.
Perpich was re-elected in 1986, but lost the 1990 general election to Arne Carlson in a bizarre campaign in which Carlson replaced the Independent-Republican Party's candidate Jon Grunseth, who had beaten Carlson in the primary. (After Carlson's surprise defeat, a bi-partisan, grass roots group Minnesotans for the WRITE Choice —launched a noisy, media-intensive campaign urging Carlson to re-challenge Grunseth.) Grunseth was forced to withdraw amid allegations of a sex scandal just two weeks before the election.
Colorful leader with international goals
Perpich had a reputation for colorful behavior. At one point while governor, he donated his $25,000 pay raise to help promote bocce-ball. Another time, he pitched an idea for a chopstick factory to be built in northern Minnesota. He also proposed selling the governor's mansion in St. Paul as a cost-saving measure.
Newsweek magazine brought Perpich national attention by bestowing the nickname "Governor Goofy," crystallizing the combination of affection and resentment his habits elicited. During his last years in office, commentators wondered whether he would shoot to stardom as a presidential hopeful or, as governor, sour Minnesota voters on the DFL party with questionable public relations. However, Perpich's activist vision of the governor's role was later cited as an important contribution to the Minnesota economy – even by unlikely admirers like his 1990 rival and successor Arne Carlson, who said in 2005 that Perpich "was the first person that I was aware of to focus on the international role that states are going to have to play."
Perpich's legacy of projects in Minnesota include the Minnesota World Trade Center in St. Paul, the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute, and the Mall of America in Bloomington. Additionally, he worked to promote Minnesota on the international stage by traveling to 17 countries in 1984, and bringing the foreign leaders Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union and Dr. Franjo Tuđman of Croatia to the state in 1990.
Perpich opposed the Reagan proxy war against Nicaragua in the 1980's and was one of several governors who objected to sending their state national guard units to train in US bases in Honduras, where the US backed Contras were based. The Contras carried out atrocities in Nicaragua to topple the leftist government there. He was the named plaintiff in the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case Perpich v. Department of Defense, which established that the U.S. Department of Defense could send National Guard units overseas even over the protests of the state's governor.
After leaving office in 1991, Perpich went to Zagreb, Croatia, to assist in the post-communist government. He moved to Paris, France for a business consulting position in 1992, but returned to Minnesota in 1993. After a battle with colon cancer, he died in 1995 at the age of 67 in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka. He is buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.