Gubernatorial hopefuls disclose mental health info

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2010 - 10:07 PM

Most DFL and GOP candidates say they have never been treated for depression or alcoholism, but some add that their mental health is not the voters' business.

When former Sen. Mark Dayton spoke recently about his treatment for depression and alcoholism, his disclosures highlighted a single gubernatorial candidate's health concerns.

But have other candidates for Minnesota governor received treatment for similar mental health problems?

In responses to queries from the Star Tribune, nine DFLers and three GOP candidates said they have not been treated for problems with alcohol, drugs or depression.

Two Republicans and one DFLer said they would not answer the question, with one arguing that the topic was inappropriate for gubernatorial candidates. Two GOP candidates did not reply to the inquiry.

How much the public needs to know about candidates' health has long been an issue. Disclosures by one candidate can pressure others to go public.

Barack Obama released a one-page statement from his doctor proclaiming him in good health in May 2008, just six days after his GOP presidential rival John McCain released 1,100 pages of details on his health.

Obama's disclosure came after calls for him to be more forthcoming.

Mental health problems -- and stigma associated with them -- caused some politicians over the years to avoid disclosure. Thomas Eagleton, a Democrat and vice presidential candidate, withdrew from the ticket in 1972 after not telling his running mate, presidential candidate George McGovern, about his bouts with depression.

But Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College, said today's public is more forgiving and comfortable assessing information about a candidate's mental health.

"They are aware of the nature of these issues and how they can affect a politician's judgment, and they understand a little more about mental health than they did almost 40 years ago," Schier said.

The Star Tribune asked gubernatorial candidates "whether he or she has ever received therapy or treatment of any kind for use of alcohol or prescription or nonprescription drugs, or for depression or anxiety."

The query was designed so that all candidates were asked the same questions in the same manner, and related to issues Dayton raised, rather than the full range of mental health.

DFLers R.T. Rybak, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Matt Entenza, Tom Rukavina, John Marty, Tom Bakk, Paul Thissen, Susan Gaertner and Ole Savior answered no. Rukavina was convicted of driving while impaired in 2004.

GOP candidates Marty Seifert, Pat Anderson and Phil Herwig also said they hadn't received mental health treatment or therapy.

Most of the responses came in statements from campaigns, although some candidates phoned in more emphatic denials.

"This is my answer: 'No, no, no,'" said Gaertner, who said she found the question "offensive."

DFLers Steve Kelley and Republicans Leslie Davis and Tom Emmer declined to answer the questions. Emmer pleaded guilty to careless driving in 1991 after charges related to drunken driving were dropped. He also received a DWI-related ticket in 1981, when he was 20.

In an e-mail, Kelley wrote that he wants "candidates for governor, and all Minnesotans for that matter, to get treatment for substance addiction, depression, anxiety, or other health concerns and not be stigmatized for doing so."

Kelley said candidates should not be asked about mental health because the job doesn't require the responsibilities of the president.

"There's nobody who is going to walk around following me as governor of Minnesota with launch codes for nuclear missiles," Kelley said in a phone interview. "It's just not the same ball game."

Wrote Anderson: "I don't think we should all be asked to come clean on every failing of every other candidate."

GOP candidates David Hann and Bill Haas did not reply to the inquiry.

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