By Viola Maehren and Robert Knudson
The Legislative Evaluation Assembly of Minnesota, Inc. (LEA), was founded in 1972. A few citizens became concerned when watching the large amount of money that was being spent by the legislators while no one seemed to care. Dan Pilla and Herman Hettinger met James Blilie through the Minnesota Conservative Union (MCU) and expressed concern about the extravagant spending by the State. The MCU had published a report on the 1971 Legislature in the October 1972 issue of the Northern Right to counter the left wing evaluations of other groups.
An ad hoc committee was formed with people representing more than 20 organizations, and a core group of about 10 people met every two weeks in public libraries or homes. They would research and discuss issues, using the Phillip’s Legislative Service reports available at the time, and the Daily Legislative Journals they would pick up at the capitol. They would study the issues and, if they seemed important, would get copies of the bills and final laws that passed. Representatives would be judged according to the LEA Credo of “traditional American principles of constitutionalism, limited government, free enterprise, legal and moral order with justice and individual liberty and dignity.”
The first report was finalized by James Blilie and Mac Mahurin. It had one award recipient, Sen. Ed Schrom from Albany, a Democrat. It was printed in 1973 and covered the 1972 legislative session. It was signed by representatives of the organizations that formed the committee. The first report consisted of two booklets, one on the legislation and one with the vote ratings. Herman Hettinger worked countless hours to compile the 1974 report which was one booklet over 60 pages long. LEA lost him to a move to Wisconsin soon afterwards.
This was before computers and the internet which make this material readily available on the internet today. The reports would have to be drafted by hand. They were impressive in their detail but expensive to produce. LEA soon realized that the readers preferred a quick reference and they could ask board members for the details and get them on request. Thus, in 1977 the LEA report was changed to its present format with short summaries of bills chosen and the voting record of each legislator on them. LEA has hosted an awards banquet for those legislators honored by the reports every year since. Later we made address labels and sent out mailings by second class mail that had to be sorted by zip code. Copies of the report are sent to the Legislative Library and given to each legislator.
LEA was incorporated on June 3, 1978 by Ernest Gustafson, Viola Maehren, and Robert Knudson. The first Board of Directors was James Blilie, Paul Carlson, Ernest Gustafson, J. (Wilmar) Johnson, and Gertrude (Sister Lilian) Meyer. Others active in the formative years were Herman Hettinger, Dan Pella, Randy Dion, Robert Jackson, Mac Mahurin, Bertha Levey, Carol Loftgaard, Kelly Rask, Pete Simpson, Howard Nelson, Walter Wilder, Michas Ohnstad, and Walter Klaus.
Award dinners are held annually and plaques are given to honor those who get the highest LEA ratings. We have had excellent speakers at award dinners, such as Congressman Phil Crane, Governor Al Quie, Dr. Alan Keyes, and Reed Irvine from Accuracy in the Media. It is with fondness that we recall all those who have served LEA over the years and have dedicated themselves to the LEA credo.
Dan Pilla is still assisting in IRS related problems for people according to current radio commercials. Walter Klaus and Michas Ohnstad appear to be the only living former Legislators from the early years of LEA. With the passing of Jim Blilie it appears that the entire slate of the original Board of Directors is now organizational history. Their good works follow them.