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Lyndon Carlson retires after serving 48 years in the Minnesota House

Adapted from the Minneapolis Labor Review, December 18, 2020

By Louise Sudin

ST. PAUL — Lyndon Carlson said goodbye to his Minnesota House of Representatives colleagues in the mostly empty House chambers at the end of his last (regular) session May 18 — although he serves until the end of the year and has continued to represent House District 45A through the many special legislative session called by the governor this year.

May 18, Carlson was granted 24 minutes on the House floor to tell stories and reminisce — one minute for each two-year term he served. Carlson, a DFLer, served a total of 48 years starting in 1972.

A Minneapolis Public Schools teacher and union member, Carlson was elected to the legislature in time to vote on the creation of the Public Employees Labor Relations Act following the historic 1970 Minneapolis Federation of Teachers strike.

His interest in government started with discussions around his family kitchen table growing up. When he was a student at Minnesota State Mankato, a social studies professor assigned the students a project to volunteer with a political campaign in 1962.

Carlson volunteered with Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign and became a field worker. That experience influenced his own campaigns. He continued door-knocking and talking with constituents in all 24 campaigns.

Carlson attributes his success to his wife Carole. They met when both were teachers at Henry High School in Minneapolis. Carole was instrumental in running all his campaigns with his family’s support.

As a result of redistricting over the years, Lyndon and Carole needed to move twice to stay in his district — renting apartments to live in while looking for houses in his new district boundaries.

Carlson’s current House District, 45A, includes portions of Crystal, New Hope and Plymouth.

The statistics of Carlson’s career are not likely to be repeated. Carlson:
• Served 24 terms for a total of 48 years;
• Served with more than 750 fellow legislators;
• Served for more than 17,000 days with 100 percent attendance, never missing a single day.

Over the 48 years, Carlson chaired the House Ways & Means, Education, Finance, Jobs, Judiciary, Higher Education, Appropriations and Health Care committees. He also had 100 percent attendance at all committee meetings.

Never a one-issue legislator, Carlson recounted the three accomplishments of which he is most proud:

First — State funding for the first 50 all-day kindergarten classes in Minnesota. It took 20-25 years to get to universal all-day kindergarten in the state.

Second —As member of the Prairie Island Conference Committee he brokered a compromise to require 70 percent wind energy production. He had a security detail protecting him from protesters.

Third — Ford Foundation funding helped Carlson enhance college affordability for Minnesotans. The result: a financial aid formula of 33 percent paid by the student and 67 percent paid by the state. That formula is still in law although the reality has flipped to 67 percent paid by students and 33 paid by the state.

Carlson’s role always was creating opportunities for Minnesotans. And he is known for his role as a mentor to other legislators.

Several times in his career, Minnesota Senate leaders asked Carlson to run for the state Senate. However, Carlson always stayed in the House where he felt at home.

Carlson finished his May 18 remarks to extended applause.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman said, “there will never be another Lyndon Carlson. We are so glad you served!”

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) said Carlson has been a “valuable mentor and dedicated friend” to himself and many other legislators during his time in the House.

“He represents the best example of public service Minnesotans could ask for in an elected official,” Winkler said in a statement. “Representative Carlson played a vital role in the most difficult and the most uplifting moments in our state for the last half century. His knowledge, expertise, and kindness are irreplaceable for the Minnesota House of Representatives, and the House will just not be the same without him.”

Over his 48 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, Carlson earned a 96 percent lifetime voting record from the Minnesota AFL-CIO on working families issues. And, for Carlson’s last term, he earned a 100 percent AFL-CIO voting score.

Carlson’s successor in representing House District 45A will be DFL-endorsed and labor-endorsed Cedrick Frazier.

Louise Sundin is a past president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and former longtime executive vice president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

Sundin offered her own comments about Lyndon Carlson:

“Lyndon was a proud member of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59. He was on strike with us in 1970. He completed a full teaching career in the Minneapolis Schools, mostly at Patrick Henry high school where he met his wife Carole, a fellow teacher. He was granted a leave of absence for ‘civic duty’ each spring for the legislative session.

“When Lyndon was elected in 1972, he worked to restore back-pay and pension benefits to his fellow MFT 59 members after the 1970 strike. He was a key voice in establishing PELRA, the Public Employee Labor Relations Act — still the best public employee rights bill in the nation! What will we do without him?”


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