U.S. Rep Vento dies of rare lung cancer

George Fairbanks

U.S. Rep. Bruce Vento spent his entire career maintaining friendships and coalitions with people from all political leanings.
So it was no surprise when Democrats and Republicans alike praised the legendary politician in the hours following his death. Vento died of a rare form of lung cancer at the age of 60 Tuesday.
Vento was considered a liberal Democrat. Political labels, however, go too far in limiting the legacy of a man who carved out respect from those he worked with in the halls of the U.S. Congress.
Bearing all of that in mind, it’s easy to understand the sadness felt all over the state and country when officials announced that Vento, suffering from cancer, died at his home in St. Paul.
Nevada Democrat and Senate minority whip Harry Reid rose late in the afternoon on the Senate floor to speak to his colleagues about Vento. The two served together in the U.S. House of Representatives before Reid successfully ran for Senate.
Reid spoke of Vento’s tireless championing of the environment and the impact that had on his home state of Nevada.
“To think of Bruce Vento as dead is very hard to contemplate,” Reid said.
The voters in the 4th District, which covers Ramsey County and a small portion of Hennepin County first elected Vento in 1976.
In his nearly 24 years as a congressman, Vento earned a reputation as one of the most passionate defenders of the environment.
Vento’s long service in the House tended to overshadow his tenure in Minnesota’s Legislature. While serving in the state body, Vento became the assistant majority leader under Martin Sabo, who like Vento, would later serve in the U.S. House.
Vento’s personal issues were never hidden below the public’s radar and may go a long way in summarizing the kind of legislator and person he was.
His latest project involved working for Hmong people. Vento sought to end the English requirement for granting citizenship to Hmong who fought for the United States in Laos.
Additionally, earlier this year President Clinton signed into law a bill easing the citizenship requirements for Hmong people who served the United States during the Vietnam conflict.
“Rep. Vento embodies what the DFL stands for,” said DFL state chairman Mike Erlandson.
Yet it seems that nobody could argue that Vento will be remembered, above all else, for his environmental work. From 1984 to 1994 Vento served as chairman of the House subcommittee for national parks, forests and public lands.
Throughout his career Vento was ardent in his belief that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area be kept protected. Vento, who eventually embraced two motorized portages within the BWCA, was originally outspoken about his opposition to the motorization.
For all of his work in Minnesota, Vento’s environmental passion was also felt nationwide. His devotion led to environmental achievements like the passage of the Clean Air Act, and the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and California’s scenic deserts.
Like Reid, Florida Democrat Bob Graham also took to the microphone on the Senate floor to talk about his relationship with Vento. “Our national treasures have lost a friend and an advocate,” he said.
Vento, who celebrated his 60th birthday Saturday, suffered from mesothelioma, a type of cancer that is generally thought to be caused by exposure to asbestos.
During his fight with cancer, Vento had his left lung removed and his right one drained of fluid. Numerous radiation and chemotherapy treatments did little good as the cancer took control of Vento’s body quickly.
During the treatments Vento lost as much as 25 pounds and the energy he once thrived on. However, he still managed to make numerous public appearances.
Vento’s congressional staff announced that he died at his home at 11:20 a.m. Vento is survived by his wife, Susan Lynch, and sons John, Peter and Michael.
Vento was planning on retiring at the end of this term, his 12th. DFL nominee Betty McCollum, Republican Linda Runbeck and Independence Party candidate Tom Foley are running to replace Vento.

George Fairbanks welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3221. He can also be reached at [email protected]