Former state legislator Allen Quist has announced his campaign to challenge Rep. Tim Walz in Minnesota’s First Congressional district. A once-outspoken figurehead of the conservative Christian movement, he’s now promising a retooled campaign that will focus more on “Tea Party” issues than on social issues targeted by the religious right. But during the last few months, he had been working closely with some of the religious right’s top leaders as he’s done throughout much of his 27-year political career.
In November, Quist told MinnPost that he his campaign will focus less on concerns like opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion this time around. “[T]he issues that are the top priorities have changed,” said Quist. “Politics is always a moving target.”
Religious right connections
If there’s an effort to put some distance between Quist and religious-right issues, his close and continuing ties to religious right causes and leaders may hinder his progress. The Quist campaign hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment regarding those ties.
“I recommend all information that Eagle Forum publishes, which is superb,” Quist said on Phyllis Schlafly’s radio program on Oct. 17 of this year. Schlafly, known as the grandmother of the religious right, wrote the foreword to Quist’s 2002 book, “Fed Ed: The New Federal Curriculum and How It’s Enforced.”
In August, Quist appeared on the radio program of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, an anti-gay, anti-pornography group tied to the American Family Association.
As recently as 2003, Quist spoke at a “Ten Commandments Rally” with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, then a state senator, and Minnesota Family Council president Tim Prichard protesting the unlawfulness of posting religious scriptures on government property.
Currently, he’s a speaker for Lutherans for Life, an anti-abortion group, where his expertise is listed as creationism.
And on Friday, Quist was on James Dobson’s Family News on Focus, sharing the air with a representative of the Minnesota Family Council, discussing marriage and the health reform bill being debated in the U.S. Senate.
Quist’s church, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, holds some controversial views, including the belief that women should be subservient to men. The ELS’ website states that, since 1990, its official teaching includes: “The purpose of the wife’s submitting to her husband and of the woman’s being submissive within the Christian congregation is also to carry out a beautiful plan, viz., the establishment of a marriage that not only lasts but is also a wonderful harmony, and the establishment of an orderly and harmonious fellowship within the congregation.”
Quist caught quite a bit of flak for a similar statement made to the Twin Cities Reader in 1994: “The fact then that traditionally you do have situations where the husband has been recognized as the head of the home is probably a natural thing, probably based in genetics, just like everything else is.”
Christian values in government
Quist was elected to the Minnesota House in 1982 just as the religious right was gaining influence in the Republican party. He told the Washington Post in 1985, “I don’t know how to gauge it, but I can say this: At the last [Republican] convention, the Christian right was able to do virtually anything it wanted to.”
He gained some fame in the late 1980s, as a state legislator, for bold conservative stances. In the 1988 legislative session, he racked up a cumulative 30 hours on the House floor speaking about sex. He railed against what he he saw as the evils of homosexuality and sex education in the schools. He tried to get a counseling center for gays and lesbians at Mankato State University shut down. “He alleged that Mankato State University was encouraging the spread of AIDS by sponsoring a counseling center for gays, comparing it to a center for the Ku Klux Klan,” wrote the Star Tribune’s Dane Smith in 1994.
When that failed, Quist entered an adult bookstore in Mankato looking to see if anyone was engaged in sexual activity in order to have it shut down.
Quist says he takes a literal interpretation of the Bible. He told Smith in 1994 that the Earth was created “over a very short period of time” and that God plays “an active role in intervening in human history.”
He has also written a number of books. In “The Abortion Revolution,” Quist said, “Can there be any doubt that all on-demand abortions are first-degree murder? … Because abortion is a genuine evil (except when used to save the mother’s life), it must be legally restrained.”
“If our nation would return to Christian ethical codes, the abortion revolution would come to an end and many of the other evils mentioned would be largely restrained as well” and “no improper mixing of church and state occurs when Christian ethics are followed by the state,” he wrote.
Quist versus Carlson
In the 1990s, Quist challenged and eventually won the Republican Party’s endorsement for governor over GOP incumbent Arnie Carlson. Quist felt Carlson was be too liberal on religious right issues – particularly gay rights and abortion. Dubbed “Quistian” by the media, he generated headlines cross-country as newspapers touted him as a religious right candidate who stood up to moderation within the Republican party.
Quist told the Star Tribune at the time that among the campaign issues that spurred him to challenge his fellow Republican was, “The teaching of family values in schools, including chastity for unmarried people.”
In 1994, during the height of media attention on Quist, he told CNN, “Religious people are looking for a voice, and without me, they have no voice in Minnesota.”
Quist went after his opponent with an attack mailer in the summer of 1994 saying – incorrectly – that Carlson supports “abortion on demand, even through the ninth month of pregnancy” and that he was “supporting homosexual marriages.”
Landing the GOP endorsement over a sitting Republican governor sparked a media frenzy rivaling those by fellow conservative Christian Michele Bachmann today, including stories in the New York Times and CNN. But it wasn’t enough to unseat Carlson, who trounced Quist in the primary.
Quist’s statement about retooling his campaign to emphasize Tea Party issues may be a calculated maneuver. But earlier in his career he said politics isn’t his strongest suit. In the 1994 Star Tribune profile on him and his family, Dane Smith reported that legislators who worked with Quist in the capitol said he was “something of a loner in the Legislature, preferring to socialize with lobbyists and activists who opposed abortion rather than with his colleagues. He did little to build the personal contacts and rapport that is crucial to enactment of legislation.”
“He agrees that his character was not well-suited to the back-slapping and tending to the narrow needs of a legislative district,” Smith continued.
Quist agreed with that assessment. “I’m much more at home running for statewide office,” he said. “I was never that interested in parochial issues, in bringing home the bacon.”