David Durenberger

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David Durenberger
Durenberger in 2010
United States Senator
from Minnesota
In office
November 8, 1978 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byMuriel Humphrey
Succeeded byRod Grams
Personal details
David Ferdinand Durenberger

(1934-08-19)August 19, 1934
St. Cloud, Minnesota, U.S.
DiedJanuary 31, 2023(2023-01-31) (aged 88)
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Political party
Judith McGlumphy
(m. 1962; died 1970)
Penny Baran Tuohy
(m. 1971; div. 1993)
Susan Bartlett Foote
(m. 1995)
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1956–1963

David Ferdinand Durenberger (August 19, 1934 – January 31, 2023) was an American politician and attorney. Durenberger represented Minnesota in the United States Senate as a Republican from 1978 to 1995. He left the Republican Party in 2005 and became a critic of it, endorsing Democratic presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020, respectively.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Durenberger was born in St. Cloud, Minnesota, the son of Isabelle Marie (née Cebulla) and George Gephard Durenberger.[3] He was a Roman Catholic of German and Polish descent.[4] His father was the athletic director and a coach at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and the family lived on campus.[3]

Durenberger graduated from St. John's Prep School there in 1951, and from the university in 1955.[5] He attended the University of Minnesota Law School and earned his Juris Doctor in 1959.[6] At St. John's he was the top-rated cadet in his ROTC class,[7] and after college was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps in 1956 and a captain in the United States Army Reserve from 1957 to 1963.[5]

Professional career[edit]

After law school, Durenberger was employed by a South St. Paul law firm with strong political connections. It had been founded in 1929 by Republican Harold Stassen, later the governor of Minnesota from 1939 to 1943, and Elmer Ryan, a Democrat who was member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1935 to 1941.[8] When Durenberger joined it was headed by Harold LeVander. The firm took the name LeVander, Gillen, Miller and Durenberger.[5]

LeVander, a Republican, was elected governor of Minnesota in 1966 and took office in January 1967, and Durenberger became his executive secretary from then until the end of LeVander's term in 1971. He then joined the H.B. Fuller Company as in-house counsel, corporate secretary, and manager of international licensing until 1978. He also served as chair of the Metropolitan Open Space Advisory Board from 1972 to 1974 and was on the Minnesota State Ethical Practices Board from 1974 to 1978.[5]

United States Senate[edit]

Durenberger while serving

On November 7, 1978, Durenberger was elected to the United States Senate in a special election to complete the unexpired term of Senator Hubert Humphrey, who died earlier in the year; Humphrey's wife Muriel held the seat until Durenberger's election.[9][10] Durenberger was reelected in 1982 and again in 1988, defeating Mark Dayton and Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey, respectively.[11][12]

In the 99th Congress, Durenberger chaired the Select Committee on Intelligence[5] and the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, giving him a leadership role in national health reform. He also chaired the Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee, led President Ronald Reagan's New Federalism effort in 1982, and was a 14-year member of the Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations. He was a member of the Senate Environment Committee, the Government Affairs Committee, and the committee now known as the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and served as vice chair of the Pepper Commission in 1989–90.[5]

Durenberger was Senate sponsor of the Medicare Catastrophic act, the AHCPR (now AHRQ) on voting rights for the disabled, the Americans with Disabilities Act, President George H. W. Bush's 1000 Points of Light, President Bill Clinton's National and Community Service Act, National Service Learning, the Consumer Choice Education Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Direct Lending Act, and the Women's Economic Equity Act. Durenberger voted for the bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (as well as to override Reagan's veto).[13][14][15] He voted to confirm Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.[16][17]

Misuse of public funds[edit]

In 1990, the senate voted 96–0 to censure Durenberger for ethics violations related to evading limits on $100,000 in speaking fees and using his condominium in Minneapolis to collect $40,000 in travel reimbursements.[18] The Minnesota Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Durenberger's Minnesota law license on January 11, 1991, pursuant to a stipulation.[19] It reinstated his license on March 22, 2000.[20]

Durenberger did not run for reelection in 1994 and was succeeded by Rod Grams.[21] In 1995, he pleaded guilty to charges of misuse of public funds while in office and was sentenced to one year of probation.[22][23][24]

Post-Senate life[edit]

In a 2005 interview, Durenberger said he no longer supported the Republican Party but did not support the Democratic Party either. He also said that Democrats are better equipped to handle health care and that President George W. Bush was wrong about the Iraq War.[25] In 2010, Durenberger endorsed his former chief of staff, Independence Party member Tom Horner, for governor.[26]

Durenberger chaired the National Institute of Health Policy (NIHP) and was a Senior Health Policy Fellow at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul. He served on the board of National Coalition on HealthCare. He has also served on national health commissions and boards, including the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and Board of the National Commission on Quality Assurance (NCQA), and the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.[27][28]

Durenberger endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president in 2016[1] and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president in 2020.[2] He was a member of the ReFormers Caucus of Issue One.[29]

Personal life[edit]

Durenberger's first wife, Judith, died of cancer in 1970. He and his second wife, Penny, separated in 1985.[30] Durenberger married his third wife, Susan, in 1995.[31] He had four sons from his first marriage and two stepchildren.[31]

Durenberger died of heart failure at home in St. Paul on January 31, 2023, at age 88.[31][32]


A collection of Durenberger's senatorial files is held by the Minnesota Historical Society. It documents his three terms in the United States Senate and is strongest in its documentation of the third (1989–95). The papers are perhaps most significant for the information they contain about his interest in, and legislative activities regarding, health policy and health care reform issues.[33]

Durenberger's books include When Republicans were Progressive,[34] which traces the history of Minnesota's Republican party from the era of Stassen, a moderate Republican governor who took office in 1939, to the ascent of a more conservative strain within the party in the late 1980s (Durenberger lamented the polarization of more recent politics);[35] Neither Madmen nor Messiahs: A Policy of National Security for America (1984), on defense policy; and Prescription for Change (1986), on health care reform.[36][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mali, Meghashyam (August 10, 2016). "Clinton touts slew of new GOP endorsements". The Hill. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Solender, Andrew (August 20, 2020). "All the Republicans who have endorsed Joe Biden for president". Forbes. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Ceremonies Honor Two Giants of Saint John's – George and Isabelle Durenberger, St. John's University, April 29, 2017.
  4. ^ Glasrud, Clarence A. (ed.), A Heritage Deferred:The German-Americans in Minnesota, Concordia College (Moorhead) pp. 6, 12 (1981).
  5. ^ a b c d e f Peterson, David B., "Biographical Sketch" Archived November 17, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, Minnesota Historical Society (1996).
  6. ^ Corrine Charais, "Political Action Among Alumni", Perspectives, University of Minnesota Law School, p. 18. Spring 2007.
  7. ^ Fighting Saints Battalion – Army ROTC: A Proud History-A Bright Future, St. John's University.
  8. ^ "Governor Stassen", Life, October 19, 1942, p. 128.
  9. ^ margolis, Jon (July 20, 1978). "Minnesota GOP has chance to make comeback in 1978". Chicago Tribune. p. 34. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
  10. ^ Phelps, David (November 8, 1978). "Senate". Star Tribune. p. 1. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
  11. ^ Ragsdale, Jim; Coleman, Nick (November 6, 1982). "Dayton's downfall: Youth, wealth, abortion stand". Star Tribune. p. 21. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
  12. ^ McEnroe, Paul; Wilson, Betty (November 10, 1988). "Humphrey says 'you gain strength by being tested'". Star Tribune. p. 18. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
  13. ^ "TO PASS H.R. 3706. (MOTION PASSED) SEE NOTE(S) 19. – Senate Vote #293 – Oct 19, 1983". GovTrack.us.
  14. ^ "TO PASS S 557, CIVIL RIGHTS RESTORATION ACT, A BILL … – Senate Vote #432 – Jan 28, 1988". GovTrack.us.
  15. ^ "TO ADOPT, OVER THE PRESIDENT'S VETO OF S 557, CIVIL … – Senate Vote #487 – Mar 22, 1988". GovTrack.us.
  16. ^ "Senate's Roll-Call On the Bork Vote". The New York Times. Associated Press. October 24, 1987. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  17. ^ "The Thomas Confirmation; How the Senators Voted on Thomas". The New York Times. Associated Press. October 16, 1991. Retrieved June 5, 2019 – via New York Times Print Archive.
  18. ^ Berke, Richard L. (July 26, 1990). "FELLOW SENATORS VOTE TO DENOUNCE DURENBERGER, 96-0". The New York Times. pp. 1A.
  19. ^ "Court order" (PDF). lprb.mncourts.gov. January 11, 1991. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  20. ^ "Pages – LawyerSearchResults". lprb.mncourts.gov.
  21. ^ "St. Cloud Times 26 Dec 1994, page Page 3". December 26, 1994. Retrieved January 31, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  22. ^ United States Congress. "David Durenberger (id: d000566)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  23. ^ Compton, Natalie B. (November 30, 1995). "EX-SENATOR DURENBERGER GETS PROBATION IN MISUSE OF FUNDS". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  24. ^ Apple, R. W. (October 30, 1990). "In Minnesota Politics, a Test of Character". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  25. ^ "Inside Minnesota Politics: Sen. Dave Durenberger Pt 2".
  26. ^ Tom Horner, May 16, 2010
  27. ^ Dickrell, Stephanie (March 15, 2016). "After Senate work, Durenberger continues to serve". St. Cloud Times. Retrieved February 5, 2023.
  28. ^ Sirek, Patricia (February 25, 2010). "David Durenberger, former U.S. senator and health policy institute founder, speaks March 5". Newsroom | University of St. Thomas.
  29. ^ "Issue One – ReFormers Caucus". Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  30. ^ Walsh, Edward (March 2, 1986). "Senator Goes Public With Private Life". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  31. ^ a b c McFadden, Robert D. (January 31, 2023). "Dave Durenberger, Censured by Senate in Ethics Breach, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  32. ^ "Former Minnesota Sen. Dave Durenberger dies at 88". MPR News. January 31, 2023.
  33. ^ "David Durenberger senatorial files" (PDF).
  34. ^ Durenberger, Dave and Lori Sturdevant, When Republicans were Progressive, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018. ISBN 9781681340784.
  35. ^ Nathanson, Iric, "From mainstream to extinct: A look back at the GOP's progressive era in Minnesota", Minnesota Post, October 18, 2018.
  36. ^ Gorey, Hays (June 11, 1990). "The Trials of David Durenberger". Time.
  37. ^ "Former U.S. Senator David Durenberger speaks on "Health Care and Policy Challenges and Change â€" CSB+SJU". Csbsju.edu. March 19, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2023.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Minnesota
(Class 1)

1978, 1982, 1988
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by United States Senator (Class 1) from Minnesota
Served alongside: Wendell Anderson, Rudy Boschwitz, Paul Wellstone
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee
Succeeded by