Humphrey series to recognize Rep. Sabo

Shira Kantor

Kicking off a University lecture series established to honor his work in public service, U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., addressed an overflow crowd Monday, joking his way through a 50-minute acceptance speech.

“This honor leaves me speechless,” the 5th District congressman said, ducking away from the podium.

Returning to his post a second later, he said, “The worst part is I have to give a speech.”

The congressman elicited laughter from the more than 250 people who squeezed into the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Cowles Auditorium to hear him speak.

As a tribute to both Sabo and the 10th anniversary of the Humphrey Institute’s State and Local Policy Program, the lecture series is intended to provide a venue for distinguished individuals to discuss public policy ideas and concerns.

Humphrey Institute senior fellow Lee Munnich, who directs the policy program, said Sabo was a clear choice to honor in the series.

“We thought he would be the appropriate person to set the standard for the bar,” Munnich said.

Sabo’s nearly 40 years of public service includes 18 in the Minnesota House of Representatives – six of which he served as House speaker and four as minority leader.

Elected to Congress in 1978, Sabo is the ranking Transportation and Appropriations Subcommittee member. He also serves on the National Security and Interior Appropriations committees.

In his speech titled “A Vision for Public Service,” Sabo highlighted what he said were the core elements of the U.S. system of government.

“Fundamentally, government is about ‘we,’ not about ‘I,'” Sabo said. “That always has to be the focus; it’s about someone else.”

Sabo discussed the ways he’s learned to deal with the notion of constantly serving a collective “else.” Among the most important, he said, is listening.

“In my two years of chairing the budget committee, if there’s one thing I did more than anything else, it’s listen.”

Sabo also praised what he called “one of the most misunderstood groups of people in the American political system” – lobbyists.

“Really at the core of our system of government is the right of people to petition their government,” he said.

Overall, Sabo commended the democratic process of United States government, calling it “diverse” and “unpredictable.”

“When you’re in this business, you have to try and keep learning,” he said.

Subsequent speakers for the series will be nominated in the coming weeks, Munnich said.

Shira Kantor welcomes comments at
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