A Liberal Gentleman Exits Stage Left

State Rep. Eliot Glassheim, a Democrat from Grand Forks, has announced that he will not be seeking another term.

It is not an unexpected announcement. Glassheim has struggled with his health, and was forced to miss significant time during the legislative session last year.

“Though my health has improved in the past few months, I am unable to give 100 percent effort, which the voters of District 18 have come to expect from me,” he said in an email announcing his retirement.

This news is bittersweet.

Sweet in that I am glad that Glassheim seems to be departing public service feeling healthy and satisfied with his accomplishments. The latter is a rare feat, especially when we consider that Glassheim spent much of his public life deep in our state’s political minority. I also won’t be sorry, as a conservative, to see Glassheim’s consistently liberal vote out of the chamber, though given the political proclivities of his district I’m fairly certain an equally liberal vote will replace him.

Rep. Corey Mock might finally be able to say he lives in his legislative district again (if he doesn’t run for Auditor).

It is bitter news, though, because in Glassheim the Legislature is losing someone special. A man whose intelligence and wit and charm often served as a balm when heated debate in the House chamber would leave lawmakers feeling abraded.

Anyone who has spent time watching floor debates in the House is familiar with Glassheim’s ability to bring that house down with a timely injection of humor.

Sometimes not even on purpose. This memorable moment from the 2013 session, in the middle of a strenuous debate over oil tax policy, still makes me laugh when I think about it.

Another classic Glassheim moment was when the arch liberal stood and, in self deprecating fashion, chastised the Republican majority for being a bit hypocritical on some regulatory policy. “You know this assembly has fallen into disrepute when I have to stand up to defend free enterprise.”

Hilarious. Watch the video at the link.

I’ve never met Rep. Glassheim in person – a desire to keep my distance and comment from afar is one of my idiosyncrasies, I suppose, but I have my reasons for it – yet over the years we’ve carried an intermittent but lively correspondence on political issues. Though we rarely found common ground in our discourse, it was always a pleasure to joust with someone of good humor and a keen intellect.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]It is cliche and usually not true when retiring politicians are fêted as statesmen…but in Glassheim’s case it’s true.[/mks_pullquote]

It is cliche and usually not true when retiring politicians are fêted as statesmen (or statespersons, perhaps, my instincts for political correctness aren’t great), but in Glassheim’s case it’s true. But not in the way people typically mean it. Glassheim had the courage of his convictions. He wasn’t one to roll over on an issue just of the sake of “bipartisanship.” Rather, Glassheim didn’t seem to be bothered all that much by the pettiness and intrigue which is de rigueur in politics.

At a time when political debate seems to have settled on a lowest common denominator of people getting outraged by other people’s outrages Glassheim always struck me as being focused on the issues.

The transition from Glassheim to Mock in that Grand Forks district will be a striking one, I think. Mock, who moved out of his own district and into Glassheim’s years ago, is widely expected to run for the vacant seat.

Mock represents a younger generation of North Dakota Democrats who are stridently ideological and well schooled in the politics of outrage. This will contrast sharply with Glassheim’s more subtle approach. Rather than bloodying his political opponents with gotcha moments and angry rhetoric Glassheim respectfully but forcefully used the leverage available to him to shape policy so that it was more in keeping with his progressive ideology.

And he was effective, very often to the chagrin of we conservatives. Much more effective than Mock’s generation of Democrats ever will be, I think.

In coming legislative sessions, when tempers flare and words run hot in the House of Representatives, there will be those of us wondering when Rep. Glassheim will stand to cool things off with a gentle joke and that goofy guffaw of his.

This will precede a moment of sadness when we realize it isn’t going to happen again.

Farewell, Eliot, and congratulations on a job well done.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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