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COVID-19 Guide

By Betsy Haugen

The Library has put together a new Minnesota Issues guide to state and legislative action regarding the coronavirus disease. To address this quickly evolving situation, the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Walz have implemented a variety of measures to address the impacts of the disease on the lives of Minnesotans. The guide compiles a brief history of action, provides statutory references, and links to relevant reports and news items. We are updating our COVID-19 guide daily.

What is the History of Presidential Primaries in Minnesota?

By Robbie LaFleur, updated by Elaine Settergren

Stack of Newspaper Clippings

The Minnesota Legislature has passed a presidential preference primary law four times; three were repealed. Four presidential preference primaries have been held: 1916, 1952, 1956, 1992, and soon a fifth will be held: 2020.

1913

Governor Eberhart promoted the presidential primary in his inaugural speech in 1913, and the Legislature passed a law that year, Chapter 449.

1916

The primary was held on March 14 (election results). Winners: Democrat, Woodrow Wilson; Prohibition, William Sulzer; Republican, Albert B. Cummins

Two days before the election, the Duluth News Tribune wrote about the upcoming contest, including "The crazy quilt presidential primary has befuddled everybody from the rummy to the justices of the Supreme Court."

In 1947, former Morning Star Tribune reporter Charles Cheney recalled the primary in "The Story of Minnesota Politics: Highlights of Half a Century of Political Reporting." "Minnesota tried the presidential primary once, in 1916, and that was enough. It was a lot of grief and expense.... The 1917 Legislature repealed the presidential primary freak, and few tears were shed."

1917

The law was repealed, Chapter 133.

1949

A presidential primary was established by Chapter 433, approved April 14.

1952

The primary was held on March 18 (election results). Winners: DFL, Hubert Humphrey; Republican, Harold Stassen

G. Theodore Mitau wrote about the primary in his 1970 version of the textbook Politics in Minnesota. "Stassen had led in the Minnesota Republican presidential primary, and most of the state's convention delegates were officially pledged to him. But a write-in campaign for Dwight D. Eisenhower, launched just a few days before the state primary, had resulted in what came to be called the "Minnesota miracle." With almost none of the advance publicity Stassen had enjoyed, and without the approval of the national Eisenhower organization, the campaign was phenomenally successful; 108,692 voters took the trouble to write in Eisenhower's name on the ballot, while Stassen, whose name was printed thereon, received only 20,000 more votes, 129,076."

1956

The primary was held on March 20 (election results). Winners: Democrat, Estes Kefauver; Republican, Dwight Eisenhower

Minnesota Politics and Government, a 1999 textbook by Daniel Elazar, Virgina Gray and Wyman Spano, explained: "In the 1956 presidential primary the leaders of the DFL tried to deliver the state for Adlai Stevenson by virtually dictating to the rank-and-file DFLers that they vote for him in the name of party unity. The spontaneous reaction of the voters was to give Estes Kefauver the victory, a message pointed toward Hubert Humphrey."  See also: "Primary History '56 Free-for-All Contest Had it All," by Jim Parsons, Star Tribune, Jan. 19, 1992.

Entire chapters were devoted to this primary race in Coya Come Home: A Congresswoman's Journey by Gretchen Urnes Beito (Los  Angeles: Pomegranate Press, 1990) and Hubert Humphrey: A Biography by Carl Solberg (St. Paul: Borealis Books, 2003).

1959

The presidential primary law was repealed, Chapter 67

Iric Nathanson wrote about the 1952 and 1956 primaries in a 2008 MinnPost article, "Political Mischief: Minnesota's 1950s Experiment with Presidential Primaries." About the repeal, he wrote, "The mainly Republican conservatives controlled the state Senate, and they moved first to vote repeal with only minimal debate. But repeal was more controversial in the House, where the liberal caucus, composed of DFLers, was in control. There, a repeal vote was delayed when primary supporters, many of whom had backed Kefauver in 1956, pushed unsuccessful to conduct one more direct primary in 1960 before scuttling the 1949 law entirely. But now DFL leaders were concerned that a 1960 primary, which permitted cross-over voting, could embarrass Hubert Humphrey and his bid for the 1960 presidential nomination." 

1989

A presidential primary bill, authored by Sen. Ron Dicklich, passed the Senate 48-16, and then the House 117-10, Chapter 291.

1990

Changes were made to the law. The date was pushed back from the last week in February to April 7, and voters were required to declare themselves for a particular party in order to get a ballot. Chapter 603. (Background: "Minnesota Primary Law Aims at Increasing Clout," by Gerald Kopplin, Hibbing Tribune, May 9, 1990)

1991-1992

The House and Senate voted to repeal the presidential primary, but Governor Arne Carlson vetoed the bill. His veto message described his support for a presidential primary. The Senate voted to override the veto, 56-9, but the House failed to override the veto, 77-49. See the veto page for detailed information. The primary remained in place. For background information, read: "The $4 Million Beauty Contest: Primaries and Caucuses 1992: Power to the People, Sort of," Roger Swardson, City Pages, February 26, 1992.

1992

The primary was held on April 7, 1992. Winners: DFL, Bill Clinton; IR, George H. W. Bush (election results). For more details, see: "Primal Yawn: Nation, and Most State Voters, Ignored Controversial Primary," by Dane Smith, Star Tribune, April 9, 1992.

1995

The presidential primary was put on hold until after 1999. More about the hold is described in: "Hopes Dashed for Presidential Primary, Election Overhaul," Jack B. Coffman, Pioneer Press, May 19, 1995).

1999

The presidential primary law was repealed in Chapter 250, Article 1, Section 115.

2016

Minnesota will move from a presidential caucus to a presidential primary for the 2020 election, Chapter 162.

2020

The presidential primary will be held March 3, 2020 on "Super Tuesday." This year, Minnesota will be one of 14 states with a primary on that day.

The Library has additional sources of information on the four Minnesota presidential primaries, including many news clippings on the 1992 primary and discussion of the issue during that decade. Another good source is for this timeline is: Dr. Eric Ostermeier's article for his Smart Politics blog, "A Brief History of Presidential Primaries."

It all began in the 1969 legislative session with one librarian, one support staff, a couple of small rooms in the State Capitol, and a handful of reports, newspapers, and magazines. And no computers. The Minnesota Legislative Reference Library now has locations in the State Office Building and the Minnesota Senate Building, six seasoned reference librarians, great support staff, a large collection of unique documents, lots of computers, and an extensive web site. How things have changed!

But one constant through the years has been our great library users. We've been privileged to work with many dedicated legislators and legislative staff and have been continuously challenged with interesting questions from them - and from our many other library users. Our celebration of 50 years would be incomplete without you. Please join us at an open house on Thursday, February 13 from 1:30-3pm to help us celebrate the first 50 years of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

Tom Olmscheid exhibit hanging in LibraryTom Olmscheid is a retired legislative photographer whose work you've likely encountered over the years from his 35 years as the chief photographer for the Minnesota House of Representatives. His work also hangs in the basement of the State Capitol and has been displayed in the Library in the past.

With elections on everyone's mind, including the special election being held in Minnesota today to fill two legislative seats, now is a great time to visit the Library's 6th floor State Office Building location to see a new elections-related exhibit by Tom.

This is how Tom describes his exhibit, "Election Day: People, Process & Paper Ballots":

"On Nov. 4, 1980, as the sun was beginning to rise I began my Election Day picture story at the Afton Town Hall. I had gotten the approval of the Secretary of State [Joan Growe] and the head election judge to be in the polling place during Election Day to do my story. This picture story is about the people, the process and the use of paper ballots. To add interest to the picture story I knew Vice President Walter Mondale would be voting at the Afton Town Hall. 

"It's ordinary citizens that give their time to be election judges. They're at the polling place in early morning setting up, assisting voters while the polling place is open and staying late into the night until all of the ballots are counted and the votes totaled. 

"The process begins when voters register and receive their ballots, mark their ballots and then cast their ballots in the correct ballot box. After the polling place closes the ballots are counted and the vote totals are reported. Election security experts consider paper ballots the most secure form of voting."

If you can't make it this week then next week will be the perfect opportunity to visit his exhibit because the Library will celebrate an important milestone - our 50th anniversary! More details to come, but mark your calendars now for our open house on Thursday, February 13 from 1:30-3pm.

An exhibit of David Oakes' photographs

By Elizabeth Lincoln & Molly Riley

David Oakes has served as the Senate's chief photographer for 35 years. This will be his last legislative session before he retires in June. In honor of his upcoming retirement, some of his favorite photographs are on display in the Legislative Reference Library's Minnesota Senate Building branch in a new exhibit, A Building for All.

Please join us as we honor David's work at a reception (with cookies!) on Wednesday, January 29th from 9:30-11:00am at 3238 MSB.  Stop by anytime between now and June to see the exhibit.

The Library has collaborated with David to showcase his photographs in the past!  In 2013, the Library worked with David to include 156 of his photographs capturing the life of the Senate in the 1980s and 1990s to the Minnesota Digital Library.  His photographs, as part of the Minnesota Digital Library, have also been incorporated into the Digital Public Library of America.  His legacy as a skillful and creative chronicler of Minnesota's legislature will endure for years to come.