University of Minnesota Duluth

Alumni Spotlight - College of Liberal Arts UMD

Alumni Spotlight - Mike Hatch

Mike Hatch is a Duluth native, a UMD grad (‘70), and, by all accounts, a fighter. He’s best known for his substantial role in Minnesota politics; chairing Minnesota’s DFL party (1980–82), serving as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce (1983–1990), and as the Minnesota Attorney General (1999–2007). Hatch also ran for governor three times, honing his reputation as someone who fights (hard) for the underdog.

That tenacity was honored on April 20, 2013 when he was given the Joan and Walter Mondale Award for Public Service, recognizing his lifetime dedication to galvanizing change. During his career Hatch has represented breast cancer patients who were denied health care coverage, took on insurers who denied mental health claims, and shut down nursing homes where patients were abused. When asked about the award, Hatch simply replies that, “It was a nice thing. They were very kind about it,” seemingly more interested in discussing the path that led to the award than the award itself.

Venture into Academia - Seeking Adventure

Hatch grew up not far from UMD and entered college unsure of what he wanted to do. Lacking direction, he dropped out after three quarters and doesn’t regret that decision one bit. “I took a break and it was great. You come back when you’re ready for it, once you figure out what you’re doing.”

Hatch took to the sea, joining the Merchant Marines, which helped him figure things out with absolute clarity. He had a front row seat to history, once likening his journey to that of Forest Gump’s because they both bore witness to momentous events as they unfolded.

His ship docked in Detroit in 1967 during the Detroit Riots. From the shoreline, he could see the smoke billowing up from the city as residents and police clashed in an eruption of nearly century-old racial tension.

Less than a year later, Hatch was docked in Chicago. It was April 4, 1968, the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Chicago residents expressed their outrage by rioting. “1968, they actually write about that year. It would be damn hard to get through that year without having an epiphany.”

The epiphany: It was time to do something. He saw his country falling apart and wanted to do what he could to facilitate change. Hatch headed back to UMD.

Direction Discovered

At UMD with newfound direction, liberal arts allowed Hatch to find the path that resonated with him.

In the past, he’d considered journalism. “I used to want to do journalism but it didn’t work. They had The Statesman. I tasted it, I tried it, but it didn’t work.” Hatch came to this conclusion after covering the 1966 visit of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. “I heard the speech, I covered it. Then I saw the stories the Star Tribune and the Duluth News Tribune did. I totally missed it. Mine wasn’t even close. They were on the same theme and here I am, some goofball. But that’s an example of liberal arts. You try something, it doesn’t work. Go try something else.”

That something else was political science, which led to the University of Minnesota Law School and a very successful career in both politics and law. He's now an attorney at Blackwell Burke P.A. in Minneapolis, but along the way, because he was at a liberal arts university, Hatch was exposed to classes that influenced him, most notably, Shakespeare.

Unlike most people, Hatch prefers reading Shakespeare to seeing it and especially loves reading the historic works. His favorite? “King John, for whatever reason, I get a kick out of him.” King John is often portrayed like he was in the Disney animation Robin Hood, a tiger sucking his thumb, but Hatch thinks this representation is all wrong. “King John, they try to make him out like an effeminate Richard Nixon. No, no. He was a bully. He was hardly weak, but he overplayed his hand.”

Since his time at UMD, Mike Hatch has sometimes been portrayed with a broad brush that misses the details of his character. But, in looking at these portrayals, there is a consistency. One of the most famous quotes from King John is, “For courage mounteth with occasion.” For Hatch, the occasions have varied but his courage in his convictions has remained.

Story written by Lori C. Melton
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