Minnesota political reporter Gene Lahammer dies at 90

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Longtime Minnesota political reporter Gene Lahammer has died. He was 90.

Lahammer, who spent 34 years with The Associated Press, died Monday morning at his home in Minnetonka from old age, his daughter Mary Lahammer told the AP.

Lahammer was born and raised on a farm in Veblen, South Dakota, during the Great Depression.

His journalism career has roots in his high school paper, where he was editor. He graduated high school at age 16 and college at age 18, “a numerical genius” who recognized that his intellect “was a way out of poverty, and he grew up in destitute poverty,” his daughter said.

Her father read the entire library — even encyclopedias and dictionaries for fun — understood Latin, and he cultivated an immense vocabulary, she said.

After college, he taught a classroom of students of every age and grade simultaneously in a one-room schoolhouse in rural South Dakota.

Lahammer enlisted and served in the Army, where he advanced to intelligence officer. After leaving the Army, he turned down a Pentagon position. He intended to go to law school. But his passion for journalism and writing became his calling, his daughter said.

“I think it’s no accident that he ended up covering lawmaking, and he has a family of lawyers and reporters who cover lawmaking because he really instilled a love of law in all of us as well,” said Mary Lahammer, Twin Cities PBS anchor and political reporter, who worked with her dad her entire life.

Lahammer’s specialty at the AP was calling races on election night, which he did for 50 years, coming out of retirement.

“He never got a race wrong, and he did it all pretty much in his head. I’m not sure if he ever owned a calculator, and he knew every precinct and county and region of the state inside and out, and he would know when it was safe to call any race,” his daughter said.

Lahammer called several Minnesota Supreme Court justices friends. Republican Gov. Arne Carlson threw him a retirement party at the governor’s mansion.

“That’s the respect that he earned and engendered from both sides of the aisle,” Mary Lahammer said.

He also worked 16 years with the Star Tribune.

His daughter said he was able to achieve several goals in his last year: to reach age 90, to see his youngest grandchild graduate from high school, and to walk his eldest daughter down the aisle.

A funeral is planned for Friday in Edina.

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