“Minnesotans. They’re everywhere.” That’s what a hot mic picked up from President Obama on the night of his final State of the Union speech.
Matt Swenson, press secretary to Gov. Mark Dayton, could be the latest Minnesotan to invade D.C., as he was named a finalist for the prestigious White House Fellowship, a program for young high achievers. But Swenson has a long way to go before he can match other politicos with Minnesota ties, because when it comes to the top echelons of Washington politics, Obama was right.
Just for instance: The guy running the White House? Denis McDonough, a Stillwater native who is White House chief of staff. Obama’s golfing pal? Joe Paulsen, son of Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka. Obama’s White House run famously began with a come-from-behind Iowa caucus victory in 2008. His state director? Minnesota native and Carleton College graduate Paul Tewes.
If Hillary Clinton succeeds Obama, another Minnesotan is likely to play a key role. Jake Sullivan is a chief foreign policy adviser to Clinton, while his brother Tom Sullivan serves as deputy chief of staff at the State Department. Both worked for Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Before Clinton can create a foreign policy team, however, she’ll need to win in November.
Enter Jess McIntosh, a new Clinton hire, who moves to the campaign after several years at Emily’s List, a top progressive political shop. McIntosh was press secretary to Sen. Al Franken. She’s been replaced at Emily’s List by Duluth native Marcy Stech, while the president there, Stephanie Schriock, is a Mankato State grad who ran Franken’s 2008 campaign and recount.
There’s even a jokey name for this phenomenon: “Minnesota Mafia.”
“It’s a thing,” says Stech, who played a little college hockey at the University of St. Thomas and has kept her 218 area code.
Minnesotans stick together when they leave the hive, which creates a powerful network effect.
“Their eyes light up a little when they hear you’re from Minnesota,” said Stech, who made fast friends and important connections through 10,000 lakes origins.
Nor is it only a DFL phenomenon.
Alex Conant is a Minnesota native — though a Wisconsin Badger — and was a top aide to both Sen. Marco Rubio and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, with a bevy of other prestigious GOP jobs, including the George W. Bush administration. Pawlenty, meanwhile, is now the head of Wall Street’s lobbying arm, joining former Rep. Vin Weber among D.C. lobbying heavyweights with Minnesota ties.
Kirsten Kukowski, another Minnesotan, will head up communications at the Republican National Convention this year after doing the same for the presidential campaign of Gov. Scott Walker.
What’s to explain all these Minnesotans flourishing?
Stech attributes it to the Midwestern work ethic, passion about politics and policy and ... kindness.
Sure, everyone knows kindness is how you get ahead in Washington.