I am very sorry to hear of the passing of Mark Andrews, a true political legend in North Dakota. Andrews was a very friendly, candid and outgoing guy who always made you feel welcome. I always enjoyed being around him.
Andrews, a Republican, represented North Dakota in Washington from 1963 through 1986. He was elected to the House nine times before being elected to the Senate in 1980. When he ran, the “Mark and Mary Show” was a local television fixture.
Among his many accomplishments in Washington: The approval of the Garrison Diversion project, increasing farm exports, bringing more doctors to rural America and mandating warranties for military equipment. Andrews argued that if his tractor had a warranty, so should an expensive fighter plane.
Andrews also voted for civil rights.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “People needed to be treated with dignity.”
Andrews told me he received a lot of critical comments and letters for those votes, with many of those comments being racist slurs.
Andrews said the best president he served under was Lyndon Johnson, while the second best was Gerald Ford. While Andrews was a staunch Republican, he often worked with Democrats to pass legislation. Andrews was good friends with North Dakota Democratic Senator Quentin Burdick, and the two of them brought home the bacon for the state.
Andrews also worked closely with liberal Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. Andrews helped Kennedy make housing available for minorities, while Kennedy helped Andrews with rural health care.
“People from both parties talked to each other in those days, and we got things done,” Andrews said to me three years ago. “It’s damn foolishness now. Nobody compromises anymore. Nobody gets things done now because they don’t work together.”
While a Senator, Andrews filed a controversial medical malpractice suit against St. Luke’s Hospital, the Fargo Clinic (both now are part of the Sanford system), two other medical establishments and four Fargo doctors. Andrews alleged that his wife Mary was not properly diagnosed. He said his wife’s nasal drip should never have led to her debilitating meningitis. I was in the courtroom every day for that lengthy six week trial in 1984.
In a bizarre verdict, the jury found three of the defendants were negligent, but did not award any monetary damages. They should have awarded damages.
While running for reelection in 1986, Andrews brought President Ronald Reagan to Grand Forks for a rally. It was one of the most exciting events I ever reported on. Reagan was charismatic and charming, and the enthusiastic crowd loved every second of it. Reagan told the crowd that they need to elect Andrews to ensure our growth, prosperity and freedom.
On election night, his press secretary firmly told us Sen. Andrews would not do any interviews. I then called Andrews anyway, and he said to come on over to the house. His press secretary was not happy to see me, but I did a live interview with Andrews for WDAY-TV. If Andrews was nervous, he sure didn’t show it.
Andrews lost that race to Democrat Kent Conrad by just 2,120 votes. Many analysts believe Andrews lost because of the malpractice lawsuit. At his concession speech at the Fargo Holiday Inn, Andrews thanked everyone for their support and displayed no bitterness or anger, even though it had to hurt that his political career was over. It was the most gracious and classy concession speech that I ever covered.
In later years, I ran into Andrews every now and then. I interviewed him at his family farm for a retrospective story when I was news director at KVRR-TV. Andrews called to tell me how much he loved that story, which won an award for political reporting.
Otherwise, we would occasionally get together for lunch and talk about old times. He was very proud of his career, but also proud of his family and to be from North Dakota.
I’m not sure how Andrews would fit in with today’s highly partisan Congress. However, they sure need someone like him now