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Durenberger, former US senator from Minnesota, dies at 88

Former U.S. Senator David Durenberger, a Minnesota Republican who espoused a progressive brand of politics and criticized the GOP after his political career, died Tuesday at age 88.

Durenberger’s health had declined in recent months, his longtime spokesperson Tom Horner said. Horner told The Associated Press that Durenberger died Tuesday morning of natural causes. He was at his St. Paul home surrounded by family.

Durenberger, an attorney and former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, won a U.S. Senate seat in 1978. He served three terms and championed health care reform. He pushed proposals to expand Medicare benefits, protect rights for disabled people and promote gender equity.

He was unanimously censured by the Senate in 1990 following a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into payments he received for book royalties and federal reimbursements for stays in a Minneapolis condo. In 1995, Durenberger also pled guilty to five misdemeanor charges related to the condo payments.

“If there is a smudge on the Seal of the United States Senate, or on the Star of the North, as we like to call our state, I will work my hardest to polish both back to brightness,” Durenberger told his Senate colleagues after his censure.

He decided not to run for reelection in 1994. Following his exit from politics, he worked with a number of initiatives focused on health care policy. As chair of the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, he addressed systemic health care problems.

As the Republican Party tilted toward fiscal conservatives focused on slashing government programs, Durenberger became a critic. He told a Minnesota political podcast in 2005 that Democrats are “better equipped to carry the day” on health care policy, though he said at the time he would not become a Democrat.

In the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, he endorsed Democrats Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden over Donald Trump. And in 2018, he wrote a book with political reporter Lori Sturdevant titled, “When Republicans Were Progressive.” It mourned a nearly-extinct wing of the GOP in which lawmakers prided themselves on bipartisanship and sought to assist vulnerable people.

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