Arne H. Carlson Biography

Arne Helge Carlson, born in New York City in 1934, grew up in poverty. At fifteen, he received a scholarship to Choate, one of the nation’s top preparatory schools, which he later credited with changing his life. He graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1957 and entered graduate school at the University of Minnesota.

Carlson plunged into politics with Hubert H. Humphrey’s 1959 presidential campaign. After Humphrey lost the Democratic nomination, Carlson switched parties. In his first campaign, he was elected to the Minneapolis City Council (1965). Three years later, he lost his challenge to Minneapolis Mayor Arthur Naftalin in a close race. Carlson then served eight years in the Minnesota House. In 1978 he was elected state auditor.

In 1990 Jon Grunseth beat Carlson in the Republican primary, but allegations of impropriety led Grunseth to drop out. Less than a month before Election Day, Carlson, a moderate Republican, stepped in and beat incumbent Rudy Perpich. He went on to serve two terms.

During his first year in office, Carlson battled the legislature over how to cut nearly $200 million from the budget. His emphasis on sound management stabilized the state’s financial reserves, restored its AAA bond rating, and laid plans for its long-term financial health. Under Carlson, the legislature created MinnesotaCare in 1992, extending healthcare to nearly all Minnesotans through a tax on providers.

Never forgettng how a good education had helped him, Carlson made education a top priority. In 1991 he approved a law that established the first charter schools in the country and supported school-choice legislation. He also fought to protect wetlands, and his efforts to clean the Minnesota River earned him the National Great Blue Heron award in 1995.

Carlson returned to private life in 1999 and has remained politically active, giving speeches, endorsing candidates, and speaking out on important issues.