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Dave Durenberger
United States Senator
from Minnesota
In office
November 8, 1978 – January 3, 1995
Preceded by Muriel Humphrey
Succeeded by Rod Grams
Personal details
David Ferdinand Durenberger

(1934-08-19) August 19, 1934 (age 89)
St. Cloud, Minnesota, U.S.
Political party Republican (Before 2005)
Independent (2005–present)
Spouses Judy Durenberger (Deceased)
Susan Foote
Education Saint John's University, Minnesota (BA)
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (JD)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Branch/service  United States Army
Years of service 1956–1963

David Ferdinand Durenberger (born August 19, 1934) is a retired 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 has become a critic of his former party, endorsing Democratic presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020, respectively.

Early life

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

Durenberger graduated from St. John's Prep School there in 1951, and from the university in 1955. He attended the University of Minnesota Law School and received his J.D. in 1959. At St. John's he was the top-rated cadet in his ROTC class, and after college was a lieutenant in the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps in 1956 and a captain in the United States Army Reserve from 1957 to 1963.

Professional career

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. When Durenberger joined it was headed by Harold LeVander. The firm took the name LeVander, Gillen, Miller and Durenberger.

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.

U.S. Senate

On November 7, 1978, Durenberger was elected in a special election to complete the unexpired term of Senator Hubert Humphrey, whose position had temporarily been filled by Humphrey's wife Muriel. He was reelected in 1982 and again in 1988, this time defeating Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey, son of Hubert and Muriel. Durenberger ended up serving from November 8, 1978, to January 3, 1995 in the 96th, 97th, 98th, 99th, 100th, 101st, 102nd and 103rd Congresses.

Durenberger was chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence in the 99th Congress, 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 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.

Durenberger was Senate sponsor of the Medicare Catastrophic act, the AHCPR (now AHRQ) on voting rights for the disabled, the Americans with Disabilities Act, George H. W. Bush's 1000 Points of Light and 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 President Reagan's veto). He voted to confirm Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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 own condo in Minneapolis to collect $40,000 in travel reimbursements. He remains the most recent United States senator to be censured. The Minnesota Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Durenberger's Minnesota law license on January 11, 1991, pursuant to a stipulation. The Court reinstated his license on March 22, 2000.

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

Post-Senate life

Durenberger circa 2010.

In 2005 Durenberger gave an interview on the Inside Minnesota Politics Podcast in which he said that he is no longer a supporter of the Republican Party but is not a supporter of the Democratic Party either. In an interview, he said that Democrats are better equipped to handle health care and that President George W. Bush was wrong about the Iraq War. In 2010, Durenberger endorsed his former chief of staff, Independence Party member Tom Horner, for governor.

Durenberger chaired the National Institute of Health Policy (NIHP) and is 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.

Durenberger endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president in 2020. He is a member of the ReFormers Caucus of Issue One.


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.

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

Electoral history

  • 1978 race for U.S. Senate (special election)
    • David Durenberger (R), 61%
    • Bob Short (DFL), 35%
  • 1982 race for U.S. Senate
    • David Durenberger (R) (inc.), 53%
    • Mark Dayton (DFL), 47%
  • 1988 race for U.S. Senate

See also

  • List of American federal politicians convicted of crimes
  • List of federal political scandals in the United States
  • List of United States senators expelled or censured
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