Little known fact: I’m probably one of Joe Fellegy’s biggest fans.
Each month I go through old Messengers for our “Looking Back” feature, and right now I’m in 1992 — the height of Joe’s prominence as a Messenger columnist.
Many weeks he responded to Linda South, a former left-wing columnist who wrote on page 4 when Joe wrote on page 6. It’s fun to read their back-and-forth needling. Joe waxed on about fishing, marching band music and Mille Lacs history, but often he provided a counterpoint to Linda, who disarmed him in such a way that he could only react in a light-hearted, gentlemanly manner.
Apparently I push Joe’s buttons in a different way. Last week Joe spent 800-plus words to respond to half of a 600-plus word column I wrote a month ago. I don’t know if I should be angry, hurt or flattered.
It takes me back to when I first came to the Messenger in the late ‘90s. Editor Jim Baden said Joe quit writing for the Mess when he was told to stop harping on the 1837 Treaty controversy.
A few years after he left, another editor lured Joe back to the Mess. I was glad. The treaty case was over, and Joe lent balance, historical knowledge and fishing cred to our pages.
When I came on as editor in 2007, I looked forward to his contributions, always hoping for something on history, marching bands or politics that steered clear of tribal matters. I was usually disappointed, but I let him beat his old drum. No other columnist in this paper has ever spent as many column inches on one topic as Joe.
Joe and I have had many nice email exchanges (and some testy ones), and we’ve shared a glass of beer or two. I genuinely enjoy his company.
Last week, Joe not only went after me with loaded terms like “scold,” “lecture” and “rant” (Pot, meet Kettle), but he did so in such a lazy manner that it made me miss the old Joe, who had more to offer than the same worn-out paragraphs that he could’ve cut-and-pasted from a dozen old Outdoor News columns.
It read like Fellegy’s greatest hits, an old LP played so often that the music is distorted — moldy oldies about the “political-legal-social meat grinder,” “the Wedll-Maddox tribal government” (an insult to the Band members who ran that government), and Marge Anderson’s 20-year-old comments replayed like they were intended as scripture.
I finally understood why Baden got sick of it. Good old Joe, so full of history and curmudgeonly conservative insight, stuck in the same groove, crackling and popping like a skipping record.
When Joe says the Messenger “should detail why it has long favored the ‘treaty rights’ monster,” he knows the reality: that the Messenger never took sides in the 1837 or boundary lawsuit.
Our writers informed readers about both sides and warned that lawsuits pitched as certain victories were not so predictable, and that the community might regret the decision to go to court. Because we had the gall not to take his side, Joe (like many in the community) has always accused us of taking the other side.
Joe made my point for me last week. My column was about facing facts and moving on. Joe took it personally because he’s stuck in the past and is determined to keep us all there with him.
You’d think a marching band enthusiast would be the first to recognize a one-note orchestra.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.