Voices of Minnesota

Oral History Interview with Karl F. Rolvaag

DATE: December 11-12, 1978


Karl F. Rolvaag was born in 1913 in Northfield, Minnesota, the son of author Ole E. Rolvaag. He was chairman of the state Democratic Farmer Labor Party (1950-1954), Minnesota lieutenant governor (1955-1962), Minnesota governor (1963-1967), and U.S. ambassador to Iceland (1967-1969).

Subjects discussed in the December 11 interview include: family background and early life in Northfield, Minnesota; education at St. Olaf College in Northfield; military career in World War II; early involvement in DFL politics and campaigns for Congress in 1946 and 1948; DFL state chairman 1950-54; election of 1954; Rolvaag's election as lieutenant governor and reasons for DFL success; functions of lieutenant governor; Rolvaag's relationship with governors Orville Freeman and Elmer Andersen; power groups in the state senate; impressions of Freeman; Rolvaag's governorship, including major issues of reapportionment, weather disasters, major achievements, key advisors, and purchase of the governor's mansion; Rolvaag's appointment as ambassador to Iceland in 1967; activities since 1967; evaluation of the DFL Party following the 1978 election; and the Fraser-Short rivalry.

Subjects discussed in the December 12 interview include: reasons for Governor Freeman's defeat in 1960; impressions of Governor Elmer Andersen and his administration; the decision to run for governor in 1962 and action taken to secure the DFL endorsement; the movement to draft Mondale for governor in 1962; the 1962 gubernatorial campaign; the Highway 35 issue; recount proceedings; the relationship with party leaders and Keith during the recount; key advisors, problems encountered, and the "broom closet" office; Rolvaag's relationship with DFL leaders and Keith during Rolvaag's administration; Keith's promise not to oppose Rolvaag in 1966; the Sugar Hills meeting in 1965; the campaign to secure delegates to the state convention; the 1966 DFL convention, including impressions of proceedings, the role of national politicians, and strategy; the decision to oppose Keith in the primary election; the primary election campaign; attempts to unify the party following the primary; the general election campaign; and his opinion of David Lebedoff's book The 21st Ballot as being "full of errors."

LENGTH OF INTERVIEW: 4 hours 50 minutes

TRANSCRIPT: 54 pages