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Pathway to the Governor's Mansion in Minnesota, Part II: Where Are Political Careers Launched?

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In the first report on the pathway to the governor's mansion, Smart Politics documented the political experience Minnesota's 38 governors have had en route to becoming the chief executive of the Gopher State. Nearly 80 percent had served in state government before getting elected, with a plurality serving in the state senate. Just over one-third of governors had also previously served at more than one level of government.

In today's report, Smart Politics examines the geographic pathway to the governor's mansion. From where were Minnesota's governors born? Where did they launch their political careers? How many hailed from the metro region as opposed to outstate?

Historically, Minnesotans have been quite welcoming to politicians born outside of its borders (well before former New Yorker Norm Coleman became Mayor of St. Paul and then U.S. Senator), with only 14 of its 38 governors born in the Gopher State.

Naturally, as the Minnesota Territory and later the State of Minnesota was being settled in the mid- and late 19th Century, the percentage of residents born outside its borders was quite high, and thus the pool of candidates was more saturated with those born outside of Minnesota.

In fact, the first 15 governors of the Gopher State were born outside of Minnesota, as well as 19 of the first 20. John Johnson (1905-1909) was the first such native Minnesotan, born in Saint Peter.

Overall, four Minnesota Governors were born outside of the United States - all from Scandinavia: Knute Nelson (1893-1895) from Norway, John Lind (1899-1901) and Adolph Eberhart (1909-1915) from Sweden, and Hjalmar Petersen (1936-1937) from Denmark.

But even in the 20th Century, several governors were elected despite not having been born in the Gopher State, including Arne Carlson (New York), Harold LeVander (Nebraska), Elmer Anderson (Illinois), and Edward Thye (South Dakota). (LeVander and Thye later grew up in Minnesota).

The historical record shows it is much less important where a politician is born and much more important where one settles and launches a political career. Exactly half of the state's 38 governors hailed from the metro area prior to becoming governor, with 19 coming from greater Minnesota.

Thirteen governors launched their political careers in Minneapolis (7) or St. Paul (6) proper, with another six in what is now the greater metro region. By contrast, only five governors were actually born in Minneapolis (Jesse Ventura, Orville Freeman, Luther Youngdahl, Floyd Olson) or St. Paul (Wendell Anderson) with only two born in the suburbs (Tim Pawlenty, Harold Stassen).

Of those 19 governors who launched their political careers from outside the metro region, the vast majority (12) came from the south central (7) and southeast (5) regions of the state, including four from Saint Peter: Henry Swift (1863-1864), Horace Austin (1870-1874), Andrew McGill (1887-1889), and John Johnson (1905-1909). (Note: Swift was never elected governor; he became governor when Alexander Ramsey resigned to become U.S. Senator). Two more governors came from Northfield: Edward Thye (1943-1947) and Karl Rolvaag (1963-1967).

An additional four governors have hailed from the central region of the state: Steven Miller of St. Cloud (1864-1866), Knute Nelson of Alexandria (1893-1895), Hjalmar Petersen of Askov (1936-1937), and C. Elmer Anderson of Brainerd (1951-1955).

Only two governors have hailed from the western part of Minnesota - Theodore Christiansen from Dawson (1925-1931) and Elmer Benson of Appleton (1937-1939) - and just one from the northern region - Rudy Perpich of Hibbing (1976-1979, 1983-1991).

And as for the current crop of 2010 hopefuls? Geographically, they represent a much more homogenous region of the state as compared to the 38 governors who have been elected.

Of the main 17 Republican and DFL candidates running or exploring a run for governor, 11 launched their political careers in the metro region, with three others (Mike Jungbauer, East Bethel; Tom Emmer, Delano; Paul Kohls, Victoria) just a stone's throw outside the greater metro area.

Only three of the main candidates hail from greater Minnesota - former GOP House Minority Leader Marty Seifert in the West (Marshall) and DFL Representatives Tom Rukavina (Virginia) and Tom Bakk (Cook) in the North. (GOPer Phil Herwig also comes from outstate).

Four 2010 candidates were born outside of the Gopher State: DFLers John Marty (Illinois) and Matt Entenza (California) and GOPers Tom Emmer (Indiana) and Bill Haas (California).

Birthplace and Launching of Political Careers of Minnesota's 38 Governors

Governor
Years
Born
Launched
Region
Tim Pawlenty
2003-
South St. Paul
Eagan
Metro
Jesse Ventura
1999-2003
Minneapolis
Maple Grove
Metro
Arne Carlson
1991-1999
New York
Minneapolis
Metro
Al Quie
1979-1983
Dennison
Dennison
South
Rudy Perpich
1976-1979, 1983-1991
Carson Lake
Hibbing
North
Wendell Anderson
1971-1976
St. Paul
St. Paul
Metro
Harold LeVander
1967-1971
Nebraska
South St. Paul
Metro
Kark Rolvaag
1963-1967
Northfield
Northfield
South
Elmer Andersen
1961-1963
Illinois
St. Paul
Metro
Orville Freeman
1955-1961
Minneapolis
Minneapolis
Metro
C. Elmer Anderson
1951-1955
Brainerd
Brainerd
Central
Luther Youngdahl
1947-1951
Minneapolis
Minneapolis
Metro
Edward Thye
1943-1947
South Dakota
Northfield
South
Harold Stassen
1939-1943
West Saint Paul
South St. Paul
Metro
Elmer Benson
1937-1939
Appleton
Appleton
West
Hjalmar Petersen
1936-1937
Denmark
Askov
Central
Floyd Olson
1931-1936
Minneapolis
Minneapolis
Metro
Theodore Christianson
1925-1931
Lac Qui Parle Township
Dawson
West
J.A.O. Preus
1921-1925
Wisconsin
Minneapolis
Metro
J.A.A. Burnquist
1915-1921
Iowa
St. Paul
Metro
Winfield Hammond
1915-1915
Massachusetts
St. James
South
Adolph Eberhart
1909-1915
Sweden
Mankato
South
John Johnson
1905-1909
Saint Peter
Saint Peter
South
Samuel Van Sant
1901-1905
Illinois
Winona
South
John Lind
1899-1901
Sweden
New Ulm
South
David Clough
1895-1899
New Hampshire
Minneapolis
Metro
Knute Nelson
1893-1895
Norway
Alexandria
Central
William Merriam
1889-1893
New York
St. Paul
Metro
Andrew McGill
1887-1889
Pennsylvania
Saint Peter
South
Lucius Hubbard
1882-1887
New York
Red Wing
South
John Pillsbury
1876-1882
New Hampshire
Minneapolis
Metro
Cushman Davis
1874-1876
New York
St. Paul
Metro
Horace Austin
1870-1874
Connecticut
Saint Peter
South
William Marshall
1866-1870
Missouri
Saint Anthony
Metro
Stephen Miller
1864-1866
Pennsylvania
St. Cloud
Central
Henry Swift
1863-1864
Ohio
Saint Peter
South
Alexander Ramsey
1860-1863
Pennsylvania
St. Paul
Metro
Henry Sibley
1858-1860
Michigan
Mendota
Metro
Note: Table denotes the launching of political careers in Minnesota politics. A few governors had political careers in other states before moving to Minnesota. Compiled by Smart Politics.

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