What a strange and fascinating decade it has been in Minnesota
The new millennium began with Jesse Ventura (I), our
wrestler/governor, not living in the governor's mansion in St. Paul
but on his farm in Maple Grove
That is, when he wasn't appearing on David Letterman or Larry King or any one
of the scores of other media opportunities that presented themselves to the man
who defeated Norm Coleman (R) and Skip Humphrey (D) in the gubernatorial race
of 1998. Those were sunnier days. So much so that Governor Ventura, seeing no
gray days on the horizon, refunded Minnesotans the state's rainy day fund – an
economic umbrella that would have come in handy right about now.
Seeking sunnier skies for himself, Governor Ventura did not
seek reelection in 2002 and left it to state senator Roger Moe (D), former U.S.
Representative, and former Democrat, Tim Penny (running as an Independent) and
Tim Pawlenty (R) to duke it out for the vacant governor's mansion. Tim
Pawlenty, who played ice hockey in high school, would not only skate to a
narrow victory once, but twice when he defeated Attorney General Mike Hatch (D)
Hutchinson in 2006. These days finds T-Paw in New Hampshire
or on Sunday morning talk shows, perhaps
hoping for a national political hat-trick in 2012.
Former news anchor, Rod Grams (R), and fiery liberal Paul Wellstone
(D), made for a very odd couple representing Minnesota
in the U.S. Senate at the start of 2000. Rod Grams would be defeated after one
term by Mark Dayton (D), who would himself become a one-termer when he
announced he would not seek reelection. The possibility of reelection was made
more difficult for Dayton
closed his D.C. office in 2004 citing concern over a possible terrorist attack.
's departure from the
national scene made room for Amy Klobuchar to become Minnesota
first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Klobuchar's victory also seemed
to end the political career of conservative U.S. Representative Mark Kennedy (R).
Love him or hate him, the state was stunned on October 25,
2002 when Senator Wellstone died in a plane crash while stumping for reelection
in northern Minnesota
. Some were more
stunned, 11 days later, when the state elected Norm Coleman in a narrow victory
over former Vice-President Walter Mondale (D) who had replaced Wellstone on
that fall's ballot. In some ways, Mondale's defeat marked the end of an era in Minnesota
Wellstone's death would lead performer/writer, Al Franken
(D), to return to his home state and launch a quixotic race for the U.S. Senate.
The close margin of the election on November 4, 2008 would result in a manual
recount of the ballots with Franken finally being declared the victor and sworn
in as U.S. Senator on July 7, 2009. Liberal political pundits would have a heyday
pointing out that Norm Coleman had lost two elections: one to a wrestler and one
to a comedian.
gubernatorial and senatorial comings and goings weren't enough, our
representation in the U.S. House has intrigued Minnesotans. It has occasionally
captured the interest of the nation as well.
Betty McCollum (D) became only the second woman in Minnesota
history to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000. Michele
Bachmann (R), in 2006, would become the third woman in the state to be elected
to the U.S. Congress. McCollum and Bachmann would create the strangest
had seen in
our nation's capitol since the days when Rod Grams and Paul Wellstone walked
the Senate halls together. (Well maybe not together, but at the same time.) The
same year Minnesotans sent Bachmann to Washington
elected the nation's first Muslim, and Minnesota
first African American, Keith Ellison (D), to Congress.
For political junkies, the past decade in Minnesota
politics couldn't get much better than this. Then again, with Bachmann in
Congress, Pawlenty considering a run for the presidency and seemingly half the
state running for governor, the next decade should give us plenty to talk
about. Let's hope it also gives us plenty to think about.