A visit with the WCCO-TV political reporter at the newly restored civic landmark

By Christopher Hudson

The weekly highlight of my evening commute is always the Pat Kessler segment on KFAN’s Bumper to Bumper Show with Dan Barreiro. The longtime WCCO-TV political reporter has a gift for blending political analysis and humor, and he and Barreiro can really wind each other up. So Kessler sprang to mind when I began to think about how the magazine could preview the four-year, $310 million restoration of the Minnesota State Capitol (page 68).

It turns out Kessler is both knowledgeable and eloquent on the subject of the building’s design history and cultural significance. Photographer Chad Holder and I met up with him in the rotunda on a late January afternoon, and the storytelling flowed for nearly an hour.

Kessler explained how architect Cass Gilbert insisted on white Georgia marble for the exterior—over the heated objections of legislators and other prominent voices who called for Minnesota granite, limestone, or sandstone. He pointed out interesting details in several of his favorite murals, all restored to their original splendor. “After more than a century of grime, smoke, and dust, everything was faded,” he noted. “But now they’ve brought these paintings back to life. It’s remarkable.

“These were tremendously talented architects, artisans, and stonemasons who worked on this complex renovation,” he added.

A friendly exchange with a lawmaker and his visiting eighth-grade daughter prompted Kessler to recall how his own kids, when they were young, thought the capitol was just dad’s office. And then there was the story of his brief yet meaningful encounter with the Dalai Lama outside the governor’s office, in which the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader affirmed the important role of the political journalist in a very personal way.

Other vivid memories? The farmer protests in the mid-1980s and the gay marriage vote in 2013, both of which drew large crowds of politically engaged citizens.

“It was just an incredible day when the senate voted on gay marriage,” Kessler recalls. “Thousands of people on every floor, cascading down the staircases. I’ll never forget the sound of it. This place is about emotion, about conflict, about debate. It’s about who we are, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of it.”