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Will Minnesotans Elect Another Lawyer to the Governor's Mansion in 2010?

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Pawlenty was first Gopher State Governor elected with a law degree since 1974; from 1910-1974, 90 percent of elected governors had a legal education

(This report is the ninth installment in Smart Politics' 'Pathway to the Governor's Mansion' Series. Past reports analyzed the political experience, geographic background, ethnic background, age (part 1), astrological signs, age (part 2), U.S. Senatorial experience, and names of successful gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota history).

Tom Emmer, Susan Gaertner, Paul Thissen, and Matt Entenza all hope Tim Pawlenty's election in 2002 and 2006 reestablished what once was a common trend in Minnesota gubernatorial politics.

Through the first three-quarters of the 20th Century, having a law degree, although not a prerequisite, was a common denominator for nearly every successful gubernatorial campaign.

A Smart Politics analysis of information provided by the biographical databases of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library and National Governors Association finds that between 1910 and 1974, Gopher State residents elected candidates with a law degree into office in 90 percent of gubernatorial contests (27 of 30 races).

However, during the six subsequent elections from 1978 through 1998, none of gubernatorial victors held law degrees - Al Quie, Rudy Perpich, Arne Carlson, and Jesse Ventura.

Tim Pawlenty, who received his law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1986 and had a stint as a criminal prosecutor, is the 21st governor of the Gopher State to hold a law degree of the 38 men who have served in the office.

But law grads did not always so commonly bubble up the political ladder to become Governor of Minnesota. From a 51-year stretch from statehood in 1857 through 1908, those without a legal background won nearly two-thirds of gubernatorial elections - or 17 of 26 contests.

In fact, several governors of the Gopher State never ventured into halls of higher education at all.

Between, 1863 and 1908, Minnesotans elected candidates who never attended college 12 times: in 1863 (Stephen Miller), 1865 & 1867 (William Marshall), 1875, 1877, & 1879 (John Pillsbury, pictured), 1881 & 1883 (Lucius Hubbard), 1896 (David Clough), and 1904, 1906, & 1908 (John Johnson).

In total, seven Minnesota governors never attended college - the aforementioned six governors and Hjalmar Petersen (who was never elected into the office of governor). An additional four governors studied at higher education institutions, but did not graduate - Henry Sibley, Samuel Van Sant, C. Elmer Anderson, and Jesse Ventura.

The remaining 27 governors in Minnesota graduated from college, with 21 of these earning a law degree: Alexander Ramsey, Henry Swift (unelected to the office), Horace Austin, Cushman Davis, Andrew McGill, Knute Nelson, John Lind, Adolph Eberhart, Winfield Hammond, J.A.A. Burnquist, J.A.O. Preus, Theodore Christianson, Floyd Olson, Elmer Benson, Harold Stassen, Luther Youngdahl, Orville Freeman, Karl Rolvaag, Harold LeVander, Wendell Anderson, and Tim Pawlenty.

Overall, candidates with law degrees have been elected in 59.4 percent of gubernatorial contests since statehood (38 of 64 elections).

Of the current batch of leading Republican, DFL, and Independence Party candidates, all hold college degrees but only Republican Tom Emmer (William Mitchell), and DFLers Susan Gaertner (University of Minnesota), Paul Thissen (University of Chicago), and Matt Entenza (University of Minnesota) studied law.

Not all governors with law degrees practiced law for extensive periods of time. Some worked in private law practices, while others worked as attorneys for city or county government including Winfield Hammond, Floyd Olson, Luther Youngdahl, Harold LeVander, and Tim Pawlenty.

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3 Comments


  • I think we'll elect a governor in November who does not have a law degree. There are plenty of good choices. Let's elect a governor who understands people and the problems that MN faces. Mark Dayton has a degree from Yale in psychology as well as 35 years of public service experience. Let's elect him as our next governor.

  • Leslie Davis for Governor 2010

    Davis launches 2010 History or Misery Tour
    Make History with Davis or Continue the Misery with Emmer
    You decide in the August 10th Primary

    Leslie Davis for Governor - A REAL Republic(m)an
    R.eliable – E.ffective – A.lert – L.ikeable

    Trained - Experienced - Smart - Tough – Ready
    Ready to protect the sovereignty of Minnesota.

    Davis supports:
    'Davis Money Plan' to balance budget
    Lower taxes
    Right to work
    Right to own guns
    Limited government
    Protection of unborn babies
    End vehicle fuel and axle taxes
    No mandates without funding
    Protect air, water and land
    End corporate welfare
    Vouchers for education
    No aspartame soda pop sold in schools
    Oppose federal educational requirements
    Treat drug use as a health matter not a crime

    Davis, Honorably Discharged from military service.
    Tom Emmer never served.

    Davis, produced millions of dollars in sales that supported thousands of jobs.
    Emmer is a lawyer who produced nothing.

    Davis has a great educational and environmental protection record throughout Minnesota.
    Emmer has nothing.

    Who is more electable in the August primary...
    Leslie Davis or an insurance company lawyer?

    Who can govern...
    Leslie Davis, army veteran, businessman, educator, author, TV producer, environmental activist or an insurance company lawyer?

    Who can be trusted...
    Leslie Davis or an insurance company lawyer?

    History with Davis or Misery with Emmer

    The best person for Minnesota’s next governor is Leslie Davis – a R.E.A.L. Republican

    Leslie Davis
    Republic(m)an for Governor 2010
    P.O. Box 11688
    Minneapolis, MN 55411
    Phone: 612/522-9433
    www.LeslieDavis.org
    Leslie@LeslieDavis.org

  • Mike Hatch is a candidate to watch. He is softspoken and astute. His experience is matched by few. I know Mike and believe he can lead the state in this new century.

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    Who Has Won the Most Votes in US Senate Electoral History?

    Only three of the Top 10 and nine of the Top 50 vote-getters of all time are currently serving in the chamber.

    Political Crumbs

    Six for Thirteen

    Collin Peterson remarked last month that he is leaning to run for reelection to Minnesota's 7th Congressional District in 2016. If he does and is victorious, he will creep even closer to the top of the list of the longest-serving U.S. Representatives in Minnesota history. The DFL congressman is only the sixth Minnesotan to win at least 13 terms to the U.S. House of the 135 elected to the chamber in state history. Peterson trails 18-term DFLer Jim Oberstar (1975-2011), 16-term Republicans Harold Knutson (1917-1949) and August Andresen (1925-1933; 1935-1958), and 14-term DFLers Martin Sabo (1979-2007) and John Blatnik (1947-1974). Andresen died in office, Sabo and Blatnik retired, and Knutson and Oberstar were defeated at the ballot box in 1948 and 2010 respectively. At 70 years, 7 months, 11 days through Monday, Peterson is currently the ninth oldest Gopher State U.S. Representative in history. DFLer Rick Nolan of the 8th CD is the seventh oldest at 71 years, 1 month, 23 days.


    Seeing Red

    Congressman Nick Rahall's failed bid for a 20th term in West Virginia this cycle, combined with a narrow loss by Nick Casey to Alex Mooney in Shelley Moore Capito's open seat, means that West Virginia Democrats will be shut out of the state's U.S. House delegation for the first time in over 90 years. The Republican sweep by two-term incumbent David McKinley in the 1st CD, Mooney in the 2nd, and Evan Jenkins over Rahall in the 3rd marks the first time the GOP has held all seats in the chamber from West Virginia since the Election of 1920. During the 67th Congress (1921-1923) all six seats from the state were controlled by the GOP. Since the Election of 1922, Democrats have won 76 percent of all U.S. House elections in the Mountain State - capturing 172 seats compared to 54 for the GOP.


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