Known as the "L'Étoile
du Nord" -- Star of the North -- Minnesota is a state of unique traditions, history
and culture of politics.
From creating notable political leaders over the
last half century, including former vice presidents Walter Mondale and Hubert
Humphrey and perennial presidential candidate Harold Stassen, to electing former
professional wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura as governor, some would call the
state's politics "quirky," a better descriptor would be discerning. In the 2004
presidential election, 77.2 percent of eligible Minnesotans voted, the highest
of any other state.
Most of Minnesota's population of 5 million comes from
northern European descent, including Scandinavians, Norwegians, Swedes and Germans.
Most notably, including growing populations of Hispanics and Asians, Minnesota
is home to large communities of Hmong and Somali refugees.
the upper Midwest's Scandinavian roots, which focused on issues found in welfare
states, three-party politics flourished in Minnesota. The Farmer-Labor Party,
which dominated state politics in the 1920s and 1930s by electing three governors
and four senators, called for social security legislation, state regulation of
certain industries and protections for farmers and union workers.
the party suffered a setback in 1938 when the Farmer-Labor Party lost to the Republicans,
after suffering irreparable damages by their connections to communists.
wounded Farmer-Labor Party then merged with local Democrats in 1944 with the help
of Hubert Humphrey, mayor of Minneapolis in 1945. The newly formed Democratic-Farmer-Labor
Party, or DFL, was solidified with Hubert Humphrey's election to the Senate in
1948, and continued to play a major role in Minnesotan politics in succeeding
years. Its base consists of blue-collar workers in the Twin Cities, in Duluth
and the Iron Range, and among farmers of Scandinavian origin.
The DFL continued
to lead Minnesota's economic growth for years. The influx of entrepreneurs and
businesses such as Betty Crocker, 3M -- the inventor of Post-It Notes and Scotch
tape, and IDS -- the first company to mass market mutual funds, helped turn Minnesota's
economy from one based on raw materials to one based on services and manufacturing
of goods. From 1990 to 2004, the population of Minnesota jumped 17 percent, more
than any other Midwestern state.
Originally considered solidly in the Democrats'
corner during the last half of the 20th century, Minnesota has shown evidence
that it might be tipping toward the Republicans and is now viewed as more a swing
state -- a stark shift from the DFL-dominance of Minnesota politics. Minnesota
-- along with Washington, D.C. -- was the only state to not vote for Ronald Reagan
during his re-election in 1984, opting for the Democratic candidate, Minnesota
native and former Sen. Walter Mondale. In addition, Minnesota has not voted Republican
in a presidential election since 1972, making it the state with the longest streak
of voting Democratic.
But by the 1990s, the DFL and Republican parties had
started to nominate hard-line left-wing and right-wing candidates. This allowed
suburban mayor Jesse Ventura to enter the gubernatorial race as the Reform Party's
candidate. Although the race was focused primarily on personality, Ventura was
able to win over Minnesotans with witty campaign ads and a more centrist platform
-- promising a tax refund while remaining socially liberal. Though polls showed
him trailing before Election Day, voters came out in record numbers to elect Ventura
with 37 percent of the vote compared to 34 percent for Republican Norm Coleman
and 28 percent for DFL candidate Hubert Humphrey.
Since then, both the DFL
and Republican parties have returned to the center, making the battle for Minnesota
much more competitive. In 2002, Republican Tim Pawlenty was elected governor and
Coleman was elected senator, edging out Walter Mondale 50 percent to 47 percent
of the vote. Convinced by grieving family members and party leaders, Mondale had
stepped in as the last-minute Democratic substitute for incumbent Paul Wellstone,
who was killed in a plane crash, along with his wife, daughter, and five others,
on Oct. 25, 2002, just weeks before the election.
In 2004, Minnesota teetered
back toward the DFL, carried by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., 51 percent to 48 percent,
while Republicans lost 13 seats, nearly losing their majority in the state House.
bulk of the Republicans' voting base is greatest in southern Minnesota and the
suburbs of Minneapolis, especially in the area west of the city, and in developing
outer suburban communities. Democrats still hold Minneapolis/St. Paul proper and
the Iron Range and Duluth districts in northeastern Minnesota.
has excelled in public policy, becoming the first state to implement an anti-smoking
bill, introduce campaign finance reform, and also the first with authorized charter
schools and school choice. Welfare reform enacted in 1995 increased spending while
simultaneously creating jobs for recipients.
The state also was one of the
first to have health maintenance organizations. Urban Institute studies show these
policies have contributed to higher earnings, decreased poverty and better school
performance in the state. The state's divorce and crime rates are lower than in
most other parts of the country as well.