MERRIFIELD - As Minnesota's lawmakers return to the state Capitol to tangle with lobbyists, special interest groups and political opponents, Win Borden is preparing for this spring's garden for his Borden Road Farm Market.
The former three-term state senator and business lobbyist, who now lives in the 1929 farmhouse he was raised in, doesn't miss those days of three-piece suits and high-level legal negotiations.
"Thoroughly enjoyed it," he said. "Never want to repeat it."
Borden said he finds the most meaningful aspects of his life these days include tending a garden that has just about every vegetable, herb and flower that can be grown in Minnesota.
"They grow. They never talk back to me, unlike politics and practice of law."
Former state Sen. Win Borden of the Merrifield area paged through his book, "Ruminations: Memories & Tales of a Furrowed Mind," as he discussed his political and business career and looked forward to another growing season for the Borden Road Farm Market.» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Borden's full-circle journey has led him to a life that embraces farming, public speaking and writing books - his latest offering being, "Ruminations: Memories & Tales of a Furrowed Mind." The book is a series of short essays concentrating on the simple pleasures of life and reminiscences about his Crow Wing County youth. The book's topics range from chasing fireflies to a dinner with pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh.
Borden, 64, talked about his book and his varied career on a recent sunny afternoon in his wood-heated farmhouse where Dipstick, his Australian ridgeback dog, ambled around the living room and a cat named Phantom kept his distance.
"My interests are as wide as the ocean," he said. "My depth of knowledge is as shallow as a mud pool."
"Ruminations," he said was a cross between Farmer's Almanac and Reader's Digest, featuring essays that were short and optimistic.
Win Borden's latest offering, "Ruminations: Memories & Tales of a Furrowed Mind," is a series of short essays concentrating on the simple pleasures of life and reminiscences about his Crow Wing County youth.
The book grew out of a darker time in Borden's life journey - a one-year prison sentence for misdemeanor tax charges. In an editor's note in his book, Pete Holste told how Borden's problems with the Internal Revenue Service were preceded by mental health problems and a pattern of alcohol abuse.
Borden turned to writing while serving time at a minimum security federal prison camp in Yankton, S.D. His grim writings prompted his psychiatrist to suggest he spend at least half of his writing time focused on the positive.
Incarceration gave Borden an insight into injustices against American Indians in the penal system and the incredible waste, which he termed the "economic rape of the taxpayer." The time also gave him an appreciation for the simple pleasures of life, perhaps influencing his decision to connect with his Merrifield area home on Old Mill Road about two years ago, after his release.
"Prison taught me that less is more," Borden said. "Mathematically, that's illogical, but it's true."
Another discovery during his prison term came from the people who told him how he had touched their lives.
"I found out I had more friends than I realized," he said.
While he straightforwardly answered questions about his past troubles, Borden said he doesn't like to stare in the rear-view mirror. He attributed part of his problems to his tendency at that time of his life to focus on professional objectives, ignoring trouble signs that should have been apparent to him.
"It's the journey of life not the destination," he said. "There are good memories. There are tragic failures."
Borden's journey included a stunning upset, at the tender age of 26, against Sen. Gordon Rosenmeier, a Minnesota political icon from Little Falls. He credited a degree of his success in that 1970 election to a Brainerd Dispatch story by Les Sellnow that circulated statewide and garnered considerable attention to Borden's race.
"Nobody thought I could win," he recalled. "I was young, optimistic and probably a trifle arrogant."
Looking back, he said he was sorry that he and his predecessor never established a relationship where he could call Rosenmeier to ask for advice.
"I very much regret that," Borden said. "He made an immense contribution."
Borden won re-election in 1972 (an early election because of reapportionment) and in 1976. When he first took office there were no women in the Minnesota Senate.
"Sixty-seven senators - all men."
He said slow and halting progress has resulted in a total of 27 women senators today. In 1973 Borden authored the bill that resulted in Minnesota's ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. That was a bill Borden was proud of, even if the ERA failed nationwide. He also championed environmental causes, pushing for the establishment of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota.
"I'm so happy that a black person and a woman are serious contenders (in the Democratic presidential race)," Borden said.
A delegate at the tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Borden supported then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey but also backed the Vietnam peace plank.
The DFLer remembered Humphrey as the greatest one-man show in politics of the 20th century who could have used a handler with enough clout to pull him off the stump before he talked a subject to death.
"Humphrey could talk for an eternity on any subject," Borden said. "To hear him was to love him. He was so filled with spirit and hope."
Nothing gives Borden a greater thrill than to see young people excited about the political process. This year, he'll attend the Crow Wing County DFL convention as a delegate.
"The more political participation from people of all walks of life the better," Borden said. "Politics is not a spectator sport."
He said he wished voters would give more serious consideration to experienced leaders and not hold it against them if their record reveals occasional inconsistencies.
"In some cases, it's a case of lesson learned," he said.
He also expressed disappointment that the concept of compromise is so disdained by the electorate.
"We seem to have really lost sight of the need for that. As strongly as I hold my views I do not have a stranglehold on the truth."
Borden surprised the Minnesota political world in 1978 when he resigned from the Senate to accept the post of president of the Minnesota Association of Commerce and Industry, now the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. He served there for more than a decade. During his tenure at MACI he narrated a daily radio program that was broadcast on more than 80 stations. He also shared a speaker's platform with ABC's Sam Donaldson and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The streak of independence Borden revealed when he left his career as a Democratic legislator to be a spokesman for the business community could have been one reason why his political career was abbreviated.
"I had a tendency to march to my own drumbeat more than I should have to have a successful political career," he said.
After his release from prison the self-described "tree hugger" returned to the area that his grandparents homesteaded in the 1880s. He refurbished his childhood home, stripping coats of linoleum to display the old wooden floors.
The tall pine trees and sunrises were part of what drew him back to his old home to start a farm market. He and his partner, J.R. Duncan, and their employees transport produce to five farmer's markets a week and sell it at the farm at specified hours that are listed on his Web site (www.bordenfarmmarket.com).
"It's comfortable. Life comes full circle. A long, roundabout journey."
Single now, Borden has three adult children, Amanda, Christian and Benjamin. After a career in the political and corporate worlds Borden is now pursuing agricultural pursuits that hark back to his days of farm chores and 4-H livestock demonstrations.
His parents, who never went beyond high school, encouraged the Borden children to be interested in life and educated. His father, however, pointed out to younger Borden that there were limits to what education could do for a person.
Borden remembered being told by his father: "I never met a man with more formal education and less common sense than you."
Now that he's in his 60s, Borden looks back with humor at the irony of his attendance at a 1966 White House Conference on Aging at the age of 23. Now, 40-some years later he says he has more questions than answers about aging.
As for his future, Borden is excited about his farm market, his dates on the speaker's circuit and his next book, "Cancel My Funeral. I'm Staying: A Guide to Growing Older and Loving It."
"I have the strong feeling my best days are yet to come," he said.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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