Running mate season starts early in Minnesota

10:33 PM, Feb 23, 2010   |    comments
  • Marty Seifert and Rhonda Sivarajah
  • Rep. Tom Emmer
  • State Rep. Laura Brod of New Prague
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Word on the street is that Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano, one of the two leading Republican candidates for governor of Minnesota will announce his running mate Tuesday.  This comes just a few days after his rival, Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall claimed first place in this ticket filling derby, by naming Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah as his second in command.

Update: Emmer's "major campaign announcement" Tuesday was that he had formed a search committee to screen potential running mates.  Current Lt. Governor Carol Molnau and Rep. Matt Dean are spearheading the effort.

This is happening more than two months before the pivotal state Republican convention in Minneapolis, where delegates will endorse a candidate on May 1st.  All of the major GOP candidates have pledged to abide by the convention process, rather than take it to the August 10th primary. So, for all practical purposes we'll know by May who will carry the party's banner in November.

Odds are Emmer will pick a female too, and many are already speculating it will be one of lawmakers who endorsed him earlier in the battle.  One of them is Rep. Laura Brod, a rising conservative star from New Prague.  As of Monday night she would only go as far as telling reporters she'll help Emmer any way she can.

Of course, Emmer could forget gender balance on the ticket and go with a male, but with female voters skewing Democrat in Minnesota that would be a risky proposition.  If House Speaker Margaret Kelliher or Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner wind up winning the DFL endorsement, it's conceivable they'd pick a male to balance the ticket.

I noticed we haven't had any males in that role since I moved to this state in December of 1997.  And yet a quick check of the reference sites showed that female lieutenant governors are a recent phenomenon, which mirrors the emerging role of women in politics and government.

The first 41 of Minnesota's lieutenant governors were men, starting with William Holcombe who was elected in 1858 when Henry Sibley was the governor.  The first female elected to that post was Marlene Johnson, running mate in 1982 to Rudy Perpich. He, by the way, was last Democrat elected governor in this state, when he won reelection in 1986.

Marlene Johnson was followed by Joanell Drystad, who was Republican Arne Carlson's running mate in 1990.  Joanne Benson succeeded Drystad in 1995 after running alongside Carlson in 1994.  Mae Schunk served was elected in 1998 on the Reform (now Independence Party) ticket with Jesse Ventura.

And the current person in that slot is Lt. Governor Carol Molnau, who ran twice with Tim Pawlenty, winning in 2002 and 2006.  Molnau also took on the additional duty of transportation commissioner in Pawlenty's first term, but was ousted from that job by the DFL-controlled Senate in February of 2008.

It turns out the notion of "running mate" is also a recent development in Minnesota history. Prior to the 1974 election the "number two" ran on his own ticket, and so you could have a lieutenant governor from a different party than the chief executive.

On the campaign trail you don't often see the gubernatorial candidate and a running mate at the same event. The aspiring lieutenant governors are often deployed to other events, so that the team can cover more ground and shake more hands.

In fact former State Auditor Judi Dutcher, a one-time Republican who switched parties,  was on such a solo flight in 2006 when she committed the cardinal sin of not recognizing the term E85. She had been on a tour of an ethanol plant the day before, so she was aware of the importance of corn-based fuel.

But the question about E85 came after a series of 14-hour days on the stump for the Dutcher-Hatch duo, and it followed questions about education funding.  The local reporter in Alexandria conducting the interview didn't think anything of it, but when the tape was fed back to the mother ship in St. Paul it became the turning point in the election.

The media full-court press began, as reporters demanded that Attorney General Mike Hatch explain why his running mate wasn't well versed enough on a product made for flex fuel vehicles.  Hatch thought the media response was unfair and out of proportion, and unleashed a salty term that provided the attack machine all the ammunition it needed.

And then there's the hyper cerebral Rep Phyllis Kahn, a long serving Minneapolis Democrat, who wants to do away with the position of Lieutenant Governor altogether. In that scenario the Secretary of State would succeed a governor who dies or exits office before finishing his or her term.

That bill was already rejected by a House committee this year.

(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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