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Will Minnesotans Elect a Catholic Governor in 2010?

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Only one Catholic has ever been elected Governor in Minnesota history; Seifert, Emmer, Kelliher, Rukavina, Thissen among 2010 Catholic gubernatorial candidates

This report is the 10th 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, names, and legal education of successful gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota history).

While the particular religious denomination of political figures may not be as important a consideration for Minnesota voters as it was in years past, there is nonetheless a curious statistical oddity that pervades Minnesota electoral politics.

Even though 28 percent of Minnesota residents are affiliated with the Catholic tradition, just one Catholic has ever been elected governor of the Gopher State.

According to a 2008 Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life survey, Minnesotans are more Catholic than the nation as a whole (24 percent), but Rudy Perpich (pictured above) remains the only Catholic to be elected Governor (in 1982 and 1986) across the 64 gubernatorial contests held since statehood in 1857.

That statistic might very well change in 2010, however, with Catholicism being the faith held by several prominent gubernatorial candidates, including Republican frontrunners Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer and DFLers Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Tom Rukavina, and Paul Thissen.

And what denomination has had the most members serve as Governor of Minnesota?

A Smart Politics analysis of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library and National Governors Association databases finds that 15 Lutherans have served as governor of Minnesota - more than any other denomination.

Given the Scandinavian tilt of the state's historical immigrant tradition and the fact that half of the state's 38 governors came from Swedish or Norwegian heritage, the historical prominence of Lutherans ascending to the Governor's mansion should not come as a big surprise.

In fact, over a 46-year stretch, from 1920 through 1966, 10 of the 12 men elected Governor of Minnesota were Lutherans. (An 11th Lutheran Governor, Hjalmar Petersen, was not elected to the office).

Lutheran governors include Knute Nelson, Adolph Eberhart, J.A.O. Preus, Floyd Olson, Hjalmar Petersen, Elmer Bensen, Edward Thye, Luther Youngdahl, C. Elmer Anderson, Orville Freeman, Elmer Andersen, Karl Rolvaag, Harold LeVander, and Al Quie. Jesse Ventura, who has stated he believes in God (but has a complicated relationship with organized religion), was also raised Lutheran.

Aside from Lutheranism, there has been no other prevalent religious denomination among those remaining 23 individuals who have held the office of Governor of the Gopher State.

Minnesota has also been governed by:

· Three Methodists (Alexander Ramsey, Andrew McGill, Samuel Van Sant)
· Three Congregationalists (John Pillsbury, J.A.A. Burnquist, Arne Carlson)
· Three Episcopalians (Henry Sibley, Cushman Davis, William Merriam)
· Two Baptists (Harold Stassen, Tim Pawlenty)
· Two Presbyterians (John Johnson, Theodore Christianson)
· One Unitarian (John Lind)
· One Swedenborgian (William Marshall)
· One Roman Catholic (Rudy Perpich)

The National Governor's Association describes the religious views of the state's 33rd Governor, Wendell Anderson, as 'Protestant' generally. The state's 4th Governor, Stephen Miller, was a religious man but not a member of any church. The religious beliefs of an additional five governors were not listed, though they were not Catholics (Henry Swift, Horace Austin, Lucius Hubbard, David Clough, Winfield Hammond)

Lutherans, the religious faith of between one-quarter and one-third of all Minnesotans, are represented in the 2010 gubernatorial race by DFLers Matt Entenza and John Marty, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library database.

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5 Comments



  • If the article assigns Ventura to the Lutherans
    (“Jesse Ventura, who has stated he believes in God (but has a complicated relationship with organized religion), was also raised Lutheran.”)
    then why not assign Pawlenty to the Roman Catholics (or Evangelical) ?

    Pawlenty was born, baptized and raised a Roman Catholic, he moved over to the then Baptist church which his wife attended. Currently, the Wooddale Church is an evangelical interdenominational church with a constituency from a broad range of denominational and local church backgrounds. The Wooddale Church is associated with several ministry organizations, including the Baptist General Conference (BGC), Bethel University, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (CCCC), the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Greater Minnesota Association of Evangelicals (GMAE).

    Shouldn’t the Catholics at least get an asterisk for Pawlenty ?

    For me, any religion that teaches to help others is the only requirement … as voters we can judge how the candidates as well as our current Governor are “helping others”.

    So when considering religion, the words of Grant Stevensen, a Pastor at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in St. Paul seem very appropriate. Pastor Stevenson criticized Gov. Pawlenty for cutting funding for health insurance for the poor while campaiging across the country saying "God is in Charge" :
    "I'm concerned that because they are feeling pressure from a governor who has a speech to write that he wants to run around the country and give as he's elected president. I'm not so sure he cares so much anymore about Minnesota and the people that are here.
    I have a personal request of the governor. Governor please, stop talking to us about God. the governor is going around saying 'God is in control.' We elected you. We elected you to be making decisions for this state that will help everyone in this state. Things that will lift up the poorest in this state. Don't pass this on to God. That's no God we've ever heard of.
    And please stop lecturing us about god. It's offensive. The only God we're aware of is the one who says 'If you want to follow me, you'll look our for the widows, and the orphans, for the fatherless, for the poorest in the land.' Please stop talking to us about God. It's offensive. We can't take it."

  • Tom Horner would be a Catholic Governor, too.

  • > Tom Horner would be a Catholic Governor, too.

    And he sits on the board of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

  • > If the article assigns Ventura to the Lutherans (“Jesse Ventura,
    > who has stated he believes in God (but has a complicated
    > relationship with organized religion), was also raised
    > Lutheran.”) then why not assign Pawlenty to the Roman
    > Catholics (or Evangelical) ?

    The difference is that Ventura never changed denominations (and he still professes to be a believer; if he became an atheist or an agnostic as Governor then that would be a different story). Pawlenty, however, did change.

  • All the talk about the Catholic religion as a denomination of political figures may not be as important a consideration for Minnesotain 2010 and beyond. A recent issue of The Atlantic magazine presents 14 of “the most powerful ideas of the year”, and one of them is, " The Catholic Church is Finished"?. I recommend you read the most recent posting of the The Joyful Catholic blog to see their interpretation

  • Leave a comment


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