Help Wanted: Open Minnesota Constitutional Offices Abound in 2018

If Lori Swanson does not run for a fourth term next year, Minnesota will have only one constitutional officer seek reelection for just the third time in over a century

Mark Dayton’s decision not to run for a third term as governor of Minnesota next year has set up what could be an unusual number of high profile open seats in the Gopher State.

Three-term Auditor Rebecca Otto decided to run for Dayton’s job in 2018 and three-term Attorney General Lori Swanson is still mulling a gubernatorial bid.

With the exit of Dayton (and Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith), that means only one incumbent in a state constitutional office could be running for reelection this cycle – something that has happened only twice in the state over the last 100 years.

[Note: Although he hasn’t yet officially launched his 2018 campaign, Secretary of State Steve Simon is reportedly planning a 2018 bid].

For this analysis, Smart Politics examined the number of open seats and incumbents running for another term in non-judicial state constitutional offices since 1912 when state primaries began in the Gopher State. [Note: Also excluded were the multi-seat constitutional offices for the Railroad and Warehouse Commission (later renamed the Public Service Commission)].

These offices are governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, and treasurer (through the 1998 cycle, after which the position was abolished).

Since 1912, there have been only two of 39 cycles in which just one incumbent in these statewide offices sought to keep their seat – in 1970 and 1998.

In 1970, Republican Treasurer Val Bjornson sought his eighth non-consecutive term – winning reelection that November over DFLer H. Leonard Bosche.

The remaining five officeholders did not seek reelection: Republican Governor Harold LeVander (returned to practice law), Republican Lieutenant Governor Jim Goetz (ran for governor), DFL Secretary of State Joseph Donovan (retired), Republican Attorney General Douglas Head (ran for governor), and Republican Auditor Bill O’Brien (ran for lieutenant governor).

In 1998, only Republican Auditor Judi Dutcher sought another term – winning that November (but changing her party affiliation to DFL two years later).

Republican Governor Arne Carlson (and running mate Lieutenant Governor Joanne Benson) did not seek another term nor did six-term DFL Secretary of State Joan Growe, four-term DFL Attorney General Skip Humphrey (ran for Governor), and three-term DFL Treasurer Michael McGrath.

By contrast, there have been nine cycles in which no incumbents retired from their seats:

  • 1922: Governor J.A.O. Preus, Lieutenant Governor Louis Collins, Secretary of State Mike Holm, Attorney General Clifford Hilton, Auditor Ray Chase, and Treasurer Henry Rines (all reelected)
  • 1926: Governor Theodore Christianson, Lieutenant Governor William Nolan, Secretary of State Mike Holm, Attorney General Clifford Hilton, Auditor Ray Chase, and Treasurer Edward Stark (lost primary)
  • 1940: Governor Harold Stassen, Lieutenant Governor C. Elmer Anderson, Secretary of State Mike Holm, Attorney General J.A.A. Burnquist, Auditor Stafford King, and Treasurer Julius Schmahl (all reelected)
  • 1942: Governor Harold Stassen, Lieutenant Governor C. Elmer Anderson (lost primary), Secretary of State Mike Holm, Attorney General J.A.A. Burnquist, Auditor Stafford King, and Treasurer Julius Schmahl
  • 1948: Governor Luther Youngdahl, Lieutenant Governor C. Elmer Anderson, Secretary of State Mike Holm, Attorney General J.A.A. Burnquist, Auditor Stafford King, and Treasurer Julius Schmahl (all reelected)
  • 1956: Governor Orville Freeman, Lieutenant Governor Karl Rolvaag, Secretary of State Joseph Donovan, Attorney General Miles Lord, Auditor Stafford King, and Treasurer Arthur Hansen (lost general)
  • 1958: Governor Orville Freeman, Lieutenant Governor Karl Rolvaag, Secretary of State Joseph Donovan, Attorney General Miles Lord, Auditor Stafford King, and Treasurer Val Bjornson (all reelected)
  • 1978: Governor Rudy Perpich and running mate Lieutenant Governor Alec Olson (lost general), Secretary of State Joan Growe, Attorney General Warren Spanhaus, Auditor Bob Mattson (lost general), and Treasurer Jim Lord
  • 1986: Governor Rudy Perpich and running mate Lieutenant Governor Marlene Johnson, Secretary of State Joan Growe, Attorney General Skip Humphrey, Auditor Arne Carlson, and Treasurer Bob Mattson (lost primary)

Even if Swanson should seek a fourth term as attorney general, the 2018 cycle would be just the third with only two incumbents seeking reelection.

In 1982, Secretary of State Joan Growe and Auditor Arne Carlson were reelected to their seats while Republican Governor Al Quie (and Lieutenant Governor Lou Wangberg), Attorney General Warren Spanhaus, and Treasurer Jim Lord either retired or ran for another office.

In 2002, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and Attorney General Mike Hatch ran for reelection while Governor Jesse Ventura (and Lieutenant Governor Mae Schunk) and Auditor Judi Dutcher did not.

Overall, nearly three-quarters of incumbents have run for their seat when it was next up on the ballot (73.6 percent, 173 of 235 constitutional officeholders).

That rate has dropped noticeably in recent decades with just 58.9 percent of incumbents doing so since 1970 (43 of 73) compared to 80.2 percent from 1912 through 1966 (130 of 162).

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1 Comment on "Help Wanted: Open Minnesota Constitutional Offices Abound in 2018"

  1. 1. If 3-term AG Swanson does bid for governor, would she be considered the frontrunner due to the power of her statewide post (and at least semi-regular exposure to the Twin Cities media market to boot), or would 6-term Congressman Tim Walz (from the Rochester-based seat) be regarded as one, by virtue of his potentially broader appeal, specifically to those who view Minneapolis and even Saint Paul as foreign land?
    2. 1998: (Aside from merely not seeking another term) Joanne Benson in fact sought the governor post that cycle. However, badly trailing both Allen Quist and (eventual nominee) Norm Coleman in the delegate contest at the state convention (endorsement purpose only), she chose not to contest the primary election.
    3. 1978: Contrary to what I have known (for so long) the DFL was not decimated at the statewide level, i.e. “the Minnesota Massacre”. True, the party -no thanks to the “self-appointment” of Wendell Anderson to the former seat of VP elect Mondale- did take a significant “shellacking”. However, given that it managed to hold on to the attorney general, treasurer, and secretary of state posts…(a genuine electoral massacre arguably took place in nearby Missouri last year; the Party of Hillary and Harvey (Weinstein) was shut out of ALL 5 constitutional offices that were up).

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