Allen Quist has been warming up his audiences these days with this ethnic joke, which he figures is permissible, since he's a Swede himself:
Hans and Ole have just shot a deer and they're struggling to haul it out of the woods, dragging it by its back legs. They happen to run into Sven, who advises them that it would be easier to pull it the other way, dragging it by the antlers. Hans and Ole follow Sven's advice and, sure enough, find that the new method works better. But after awhile, Hans turns to Ole and observes, "Ya know, we're gettin' farther and farther from the car all the time."
The point is this, says Quist, a 49-year-old St. Peter farmer, avid hunter, father of 10 kids and former legislator: Minnesota is getting lost in the woods, and it needs a governor to reverse its direction, "back toward the car for a change."
He would start with a $1 billion tax cut over the next four years, mostly for middle- and lower-income families with children, reversing the trend toward a larger and larger public sector.
But Quist's main mission is to "rebuild the family," and he is promoting a bushel of laws and policies that would discourage divorce, promote abstinence based sex education, cut welfare benefits and prevent the increase of single parent families.
The weakness in Quist's hunting analogy is that Minnesotans are different in many respects from dead deer.
Most of the state's political establishment thinks Quist's politics are extremist, and would not produce the desired result. Some see his call for a reversal of direction as retrograde, cramped and narrow, a move toward less tolerance of diversity.
Quist's goals would be easier to embrace, his critics say, if they were broader and not so clearly tied to a rather narrow, church-based, white, mostly rural and suburban constituency. He has softened his position on many controversial social issues since nailing down the IR Party endorsement, but that makes people wonder even more about his true agenda, whether he is some kind of stealth candidate.
Quist, a member of a small and strongly conservative Lutheran synod, is disarmingly down-home and credible. There's a reason why he has gotten this far and is still thought by some to be an even-money bet to defeat Gov. Arne Carlson in the Sept. 13 primary.
Rather than trading on emotion, Quist projects a cool, unflappable, almost boring presence, speaking with a flat nasal twang, matter-of-fact and articulate, comfortably joking and laughing along the way.
His pattern of exposition is linear and direct. He moves through his material ticking off points like a college teacher, which he was for some 17 years at a small Lutheran community college in Mankato.
His appearance is somewhat appealing, too, in these days when people seem to be searching for politicians who don't look and act like politicians. Quist has a sort of hound-dog look, and nothing about him is slick. He does not strike people as dangerous or extreme, despite Carlson's strenuous efforts to prove just that.
Witnesses to this phenomenon were Albert Anderson and Bev Benson, two retired businessmen and members of the Downtown Minneapolis Kiwanis Club, who came to hear Quist talk at a luncheon last week.
The reception for Quist was reserved, and people groaned when he tried to joke that he must have been invited because "Adolf Hitler was not available," a reference to Carlson's miscue earlier in the week.
But afterward, Anderson and Benson said they were impressed by Quist's command of the tax-and-spending issues as well as his analysis of the governmental disincentives for strong, intact families.
Anderson said Quist obviously has "thought through the issues" and was "more rational than some of his opponents." Benson echoed that opinion, although he questioned how Quist could cut $1 billion without doing some damage somewhere.
Still, with a month to go before the primary, polls show that Quist's negatives are very high and that, as people get to know him, a significant percentage strongly dislike him or disapprove of his politics.
Vin Weber, the former Minnesota congressman who pioneered the Reagan coalition in the 1980s - a coalition Quist claims to be trying to resurrect - predicted last spring that Quist would become unelectable as the news media and his opponents defined him, especially in a general election.
"He won't wear well at all," predicted Mike Triggs, a former campaign manager for Carlson. "Mr. and Mrs. Gopher are going to think [the Quists] are damn weird." Over the course of the campaign, some odd angles have been revealed about both Quist and his activist wife, Julie, who at times has been almost as intensively covered as the candidate.
First, voters have heard a lot about Quist's reputation as a three-term legislator almost obsessed with sexual morality, including an undercover foray into a sex-oriented bookstore in Mankato, hours and hours of speeches on the House floor railing against homosexuality and pornography and sponsorship of a bill to require AIDS testing for all marriage license applicants.
He has not made a big deal out of those issues in his campaign, and explains that he got caught up in those issues, in part, because he was given grossly inflated estimates by the state about the spread of AIDS.
Quist has had to answer questions about his decision to display the fetus in an open casket after his pregnant wife, Dianne, died in a car accident in 1986: He has said it was a way for the family to grieve.
And then there is Julie Quist, whom Quist married about six months after his first wife's death. A self-proclaimed radical feminist in the 1970s, she acknowledged in a newspaper interview this summer that she had had an abortion, and that she wrote about it at the time and promoted it.
But in the 1980s, she said, she took a 180-degree turn and became an Independent-Republican activist. She said she is in a position to understand the trauma associated with abortion, which is one reason she became an abortion rights opponent.
While indignant letters to the editor and calls to talk radio followed these revelations, they do not appear to have damaged Quist in the eyes of his core constituency; those who excoriated him weren't going to vote for him anyway.
Ironically, the role of Julie Quist, a former IR Party chairwoman in the Second Congressional District and a key organizer of his campaign, has helped Allen Quist blunt other criticisms of his oft-stated beliefs in traditional gender role models.
He has said that he believes in equality before the law but that the husband should be the head of the household because of a "genetic predisposition" that manifests itself in practically all human cultures.
Recently, Quist said that, if elected, he would have Julie displayed prominently in his gubernatorial portrait.
While Quist, before the party endorsement, took fire for his so-called extremist views and adherence to the social agenda of Christian conservatives, he's been attacked since then for appearing to back away from these stands. Much of the social agenda he has so vigorously espoused for years now is simply "not a priority."
"Now people are criticizing me for not being hard-nosed enough," he said.
He insists that he has changed no position on any important issue and that he does back virtually every plank in the IR platform. However, he adds, that doesn't mean everything will be acted upon and that everything will be a priority.
For instance, although he favors the outlawing of abortion, Quist said he recognizes that the U.S. Supreme Court presents an insurmountable obstacle to that goal. So he will push only for a 24-hour waiting period or the "informed consent" kind of laws.
Although he bitterly criticized Carlson for leading the effort to extend human rights protections to gays and lesbians, and even though it would not be difficult to initiate an effort to delete that language from the law, Quist now says he won't make repeal a priority.
His footwork on these issues strikes Carlson as sophistry, and he and a number of conservative outstate legislators have called Quist a hypocrite or worse. And they find it outrageous that Quist could deny Carlson the endorsement by isolating him on certain issues and then go around telling a larger group of primary voters that he would not do anything much different than Carlson did to change the status quo. What's to keep Quist, they say, from readjusting his "priorities" if he is elected?
Quist insists that "to run away from the platform," as Carlson did, is critically different from standing for the principles in the platform.
Leon Oistad, Quist's campaign manager, defended Quist's behavior as standard operating procedure in politics. "Most candidates may enunciate positions on 20 different issues, but when they become governor, they can only home in on a few things and they don't advance everything," he said.
Oistad offered President Clinton as an example of someone who had to overhaul his agenda after he was elected. Oistad may have a point, but a growing number of observers fear that Clinton's presidency may be failing for its shifting priorities.
To put Minnesotans at ease on the issue of church and state, Quist repeatedly has said that the moral values and policies he wants to impose have nothing to do with Christians beliefs, but that they are values shared by all or most people in all cultures. He insists that people outside his campaign have made religion an issue, not him.
"Religion has not been an issue in the least in my campaign," he said. But two minutes inside his headquarters at an Inver Grove Heights shopping mall suggested otherwise. His receptionist on a recent Monday morning was involved in a telephone conversation explaining how "church groups" could connect directly into the campaign.
And in his two books, "The Abortion Revolution" and "The Nails of the Cross," Quist has made statements suggesting that Christianity is at the very core of his political beliefs.
"If our nation would return to Christian ethical codes, the abortion revolution would come to an end and many of the other evils mentioned would be largely restrained as well," he wrote in "The Abortion Revolution." He also wrote that "no improper mixing of church and state occurs when Christian ethics are followed by the state."
In explaining those words, Quist says that Carlson supporters "don't understand Christian ethics, that standards are universal, written in people's hearts . . . it's instinctive." Despite his avowal that fiscal issues are his main concern, old colleagues such as state Rep. David Bishop, IR-Rochester, say they are convinced that Quist will eventually reveal himself to be mostly concerned about the social agenda. "He is consistent. He is very much a social conservative," Bishop said.
"No. Crime control does not equal gun control. To really control crime we need to put dangerous criminals in prison, rebuild the family, and teach the character values of the home and the community in our schools. Yes, I support capital punishment in limited cases."
Jobs: What steps would you take to create more and better jobs? What would you do to address the growing disparity between the affluent and the working poor?
"To create more good jobs we need to lower taxes, lower worker's compensation costs, and better educate out children for high paying jobs. I have also proposed tax credits, targeted to working class and middle class families."
Gambling: In your view, does Minnesota have enough forms of gambling, or would you support off-track betting and video gaming in bars?
"Minnesota would have been better off had gambling not come into our state in a big way. It brings severe social problems, including crime potential, and personal miseries, including compulsive gambling. I would oppose further expansion of gambling."
Families: What ideas do you have for making day care more accessible and affordable, and for strengthening families?
"I believe families are the cornerstone of our society and everything reasonably possible should be done to maintain and to strengthen families, including tax reduction, welfare reform, and serious attempts to find an alternative to no-fault divorce."
Taxes: State and local governments in Minnesota spend about 21 percent of personal income. What will happen to that figure under your administration? Should Minnesota's tax structure be more progressive, placing higher taxes on the rich than the poor?
"I will set a cap on state and local taxes so that Minnesota taxes cannot exceed 21 percent of personal income . . . I have proposed tax reductions equal to $1,000 for a family of four over the next four years. Those tax reductions are targeted to working class and middle class families and would have the effect of making our tax laws more progressive. I have also proposed tax reductions on property taxes, including commercial, industrial and rental properties."
Education: Would you move forward on the initiative to establish an outcome based education system in the state? Would you reduce schools' reliance on property taxes? If so, what revenue source would you propose? How would you make tuition at Minnesota public colleges and universities more affordable?
"Education is best left in the hands of parents and local school boards, therefore I do not support state mandated outcome based education. I would promote higher learning standards and more of school discipline. I would prefer to lessen reliance on property taxes as the means for financing schools by transferring reliance more toward income and sales tax."
Agriculture: Would you favor stricter controls on runoff of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides?
"No. Agriculture is rapidly moving in the direction of greater protection of the environment. The biggest need today for agriculture is to lower the unrealistically high property tax on agricultural land."
Abortion: Should the state's existing laws on abortion be changed? Do you favor requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion?
"I am pro-life. I favor laws requiring a 24-hour waiting period and informed consent before an abortion can be performed."
Corporate aid: Should the state provide financial assistance to companies such as Northwest Airlines and the Minnesota Timberwolves to guarantee employment?
"I am opposed to the state picking and choosing which businesses to subsidize and which ones not to subsidize. The state should create a level playing field for all businesses, and should engage in major reform of the business climate, including tax reductions, workers compensation reform and regulatory reform."
Health care: If Minnesota keeps moving forward with its own universal health care program, rather than waiting for the federal government, how would you fund it?
"I favor a private sector alternative to socialized medicine. [My plan] would include medical IRAs, reform of laws governing malpractice cases and greater competition among providers and third-party payers."
Welfare: How would you change the state's welfare system, if at all?
"I support major welfare overhaul making welfare more friendly to families and private employment. I favor a two-year limit on welfare in most cases, bringing in private sector jobs and training programs to supplement the public programs, and using various incentives to attract business growth to high areas of unemployment."
Leadership: What special qualities of leadership do you bring to the office you are seeking?
"I believe my experiences as a small businessman, educator, state representative, family man, and a private citizen will enable me to serve the voters of Minnesota well as governor."