Last Saturday, former Iron Range State Sen. Tony Perpich (DFL-Eveleth) died in his Shoreview, Minn., home at the age of 84. He had battled heart disease.
Perpich grew up part of a politically charged first generation Croatian immigrant family raised in the mining location of Carson Lake. With his brothers, he helped reshape Iron Range politics in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Perpich won his eastern Mesabi Range State Senate seat the same year his older brother Rudy Perpich was elected Lt. Governor and his brother George was elected Senator in the neighboring central Mesabi district.
“The Perpich Brothers” became central figures at the peak of Iron Range political influence, and played a significant role in shaping the current system of taxing mines to pay for local economic development and public works. Along with then State Reps. Joe Begich, Doug Johnson, Bill Ojala and others, the DFL delegation in the 1970s actively fought the mining companies for more money for local communities. This was arguably the last time local legislators and the mining companies have had anything more than a minor skirmish.
As this Star Tribune obituary describes, Perpich was the quieter of the three political brothers, but was known as being deeply thoughtful. My friend former State Rep. Tom Anzelc, a close family friend of the Perpiches, described him as the compassionate brother, philosophically liberal and kind. A dentist like Rudy, Tony was also a carpenter who built his own home in the woods outside Eveleth and a cabin in Ontario.
In the long saga of 20th Century Iron Range politics, no battle was more storied or closely fought than the endorsement fight between Tony Perpich and Jim Oberstar after John Blatnik’s retirement in 1974. With ballot after ballot stretching into the early morning hours, Perpich eventually won the endorsement. However, he lost the primary under the heavy influence of Blatnik on behalf of his aide Oberstar. During my upbringing around Iron Range politics characters were often sorted based on which side they were on during that showdown.
Perpich stepped down from the legislature in 1976, earning a reputation as an independent minded legislator who did not bow to the influence of lobbyists. Then on he lived a relatively quiet life with his wife Irene Kosiak, a physician, and his daughter Julie. He leaves them behind, along with three grandchildren. His brothers Joe, a Maryland psychiatrist, and George also survive him.