Former Gov. Arne Carlson: ‘I deeply regret’ endorsing Tim Walz

Carlson, a politically moderate two-term governor in the 1990s, blasted Walz and the DFL's "reckless financial planning" during the 2023 legislative session.

Arne Carlson
Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson participates in a 2016 event at the University of St. Thomas. (University of St. Thomas/YouTube)

It’s been more than a quarter century since Arne Carlson last held elected office in Minnesota.

But the former Republican governor — a self-professed moderate — has continued to stay engaged in politics over the years. He’s known for regularly handing out endorsements to candidates across the political spectrum, often to the chagrin of the party that once claimed him as one of its own.

Last week Carlson, who served as governor from 1991 to 1998, expressed regret for one of his recent endorsements — that of current Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.

During a podcast interview on Friday with Pioneer Press columnist and long-tenured radio talk show host Joe Soucheray, Carlson blasted the current atmosphere at the State Capitol and the general tone of politics in Minnesota.

Over the course of the 20-minute interview on the Feb. 16 edition of Garage Logic, Carlson lamented what he views as the “demise” of Minnesota’s citizen legislature.

“I’m afraid you’re right,” Carlson commented when Soucheray suggested that the legislature has become “the job of choice for career activists.”

“And you can see that in the actions,” Carlson said.

Throughout the conversation, Carlson referenced a letter he authored that was published in the Star Tribune this month. In it he criticized “the total failure of the media and our elected officials” to bring to light a 2021 study from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Schools of Public Affairs, which he said identified a culture of politicians “granting special favors to wealthy campaign donors including being able to ‘shape’ legislation.”

‘I supported him, campaigned for him, and I deeply regret it’

During the wide-ranging discussion, Soucheray asked Carlson, “Are you a fan of Gov. Walz?”

“I supported him, campaigned for him, and I deeply regret it,” Carlson said, adding that he has attempted to reach out to Walz’s office on a handful of issues over the last year, which he feels has fallen on deaf ears.

“I’ve been trying to get answers from him and I can’t,” Carlson said. “I had a phone call scheduled, they then canceled. I have not been able to get any communication from [Walz] relative to all the commentaries that I have written about what’s going on, and that includes the Humphrey study.”

Carlson, who has endorsed Walz for Congress and governor, also criticized the DFL “trifecta” for its decision to spend a nearly $18 billion surplus during the 2023 session, calling it “reckless financial planning.”

Carlson first endorsed Walz for his re-election bid to Congress in 2010. That same year he endorsed Independence Party candidate for governor, Tom Horner. He’s endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 for president.

When Carlson endorsed Walz for governor over Jeff Johnson in 2018, he praised Walz’s “sense of pragmatic leadership and healthy independence.” In 2022, Carlson was cryptic when asked who he favored in the gubernatorial race between Walz and Republican challenger Dr. Scott Jensen, but said in an interview on WCCO Radio it would be difficult for him to vote for any Republican in modern elections.

Carlson has written a number of commentaries on the state of politics in Minnesota and in Washington, D.C. over the years. He’s called out Gov. Walz a handful of times over the last year for not responding to his requests for dialogue over his belief that the Walz administration hasn’t gone far enough to prevent mining operations near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

In the same interview with Soucheray last week, Carlson bemoaned the current state of politics within the Minnesota Legislature, where he said DFL and GOP caucuses in the House and Senate have snowballed into “massive political armies that engage in constant warfare all at our expense, accomplish little, but more than anything else they are paying very little attention to the future.”

Despite those criticisms, Carlson endorsed a handful of progressive DFLers for the legislature in recent election cycles, including Kelly Morrison and Lindsey Port in the Senate, and Zack Stephenson in the House, all three of whom hold leadership positions in their respective caucuses and have authored or supported a number of politically divisive bills.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.