This year at the 3rd Annual Humphrey-Mondale Awards Dinner, held at the Minneapolis Convention Center with over 2000 guests in attendance, Conservation Minnesota’s own Paul Austin received the Willard Munger Award for Distinguished Environmental Stewardship. This award was created in memory of Minnesota’s environmental champion Rep. Willard Munger from Duluth’s rough-and-tumble west side.
Willard was one of the longest serving legislators in Minnesota history (1955-1999) and built a most impressive environmental record. We’re not talking about any small initiatives, but things like establishment of the Pollution Control Agency and beginning a movement to ban the most used pesticide in the nation, a move that was credited with saving the bald eagle from extinction. The list of his accomplishments over his 42 years in the Legislature is astounding; that’s why he earned the name “Mr. Environment”.
Actually, Willard was known for keeping a list. Having served with him in the Legislature, I knew he kept a piece of paper folded 3 ways in his suit coat pocket. On the front he had his “good” list; on the back he had his “bad”. He always wanted to remember those who helped him out on votes or speeches through the chaotic legislative process. He would actually cultivate relationships on both sides of aisle and as a result, the list was very bipartisan. Willard knew that to be successful in the legislative process on environmental issues in Minnesota, it had to be bipartisan. He actually showed me the list once, to let me know that I was on it along with Conservation Minnesota advisory board member and former representative Dennis Ozment.
Paul Austin is an ideal person to receive the Willard Munger Award for Distinguished Environmental Stewardship. Since Paul’s arrival in Minnesota, he also recognized the importance of working on a bipartisan basis if environmental initiatives are to succeed in this great state. Paul also knows it’s absolute necessary to keep lists of the good and bad things happening up at the Legislature. What has made Paul’s contribution to environment policy in Minnesota so noteworthy is how he has made the good and bad lists much more accessible to the voters of Minnesota who care about our great outdoors. Conservation Minnesota’s use of new media outlets and Internet interfaces with voters has been a nationally recognized effort to connect voters to good information about environmental policy.
In the rough-and-tumble world of state politics, Paul Austin has taken Willard’s vision of a better Minnesota through hard work and good lists to a new level. For that reason, the team at Conservation Minnesota is very proud of the recognition that our executive director has received and we look forward to implementing more of his innovations in the future. I think Willard would be proud and I’m guessing if I were to see Willard’s list again, Paul would be on the good side of the paper.
Written by John Tuma, former Republican State Representative from Northfield and one of Conservation Minnesota’s Capitol lobbyists.