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Carlson Unveils Official Portrait
By Martin Kaste
October 21, 1999
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Arne Carlson has joined the pantheon of former governors whose portraits hang in the hallways of the state Capitol. Carlson's portrait, featuring an unusually casual pose, was unveiled in a ceremony in the Capitol rotunda, where more than 100 friends, family and former Carlson administration staffers paid tribute to the two-term governor.

NOW THAT HIS OFFICIAL state portrait is done, Arne Carlson says he feels he's made the transition from regular politician to historical figure. It's a moment about which he has some mixed emotions, especially when he looks up at the massive, gilt-framed painting.
See a larger image of Carlson's official portrait.
Carlson: As school children go by they're going to wonder, on one side will be the very colorful Rudy Perpich and his wife Lola, and on the other side will be another very colorful governor Jesse Ventura, and they're going to ask who's the boring guy in between?
Speaking to a friendly audience of old-time allies, Carlson recalled his two terms in office with fondness. He may not have been the most colorful governor in recent memory, but reminded them of the solid, workmanlike job he did bringing the state's finances under control and balancing the budget.

Carlson also took advantage of the nostalgia to deliver some not-so-veiled criticism at the current crop of politicians.
Carlson: I would have to say that I'm concerned that the politics of substance, the substance of governance, is giving away to the 30-second sound bite, to the quick quip, and overall there's a certain trivialization that is occurring in American politics.
Carlson wouldn't say whether this criticism was directed at his successor, Governor Ventura, who was not invited to the unveiling. But later, Carlson did repeat his dismay over Ventura's tendency to ridicule career politicians.
Hear artist Steve Gjertsendescribe his project in an interview with MPR's Martin Kaste. (3:26)
Carlson: I respect experience, I would like presidents who have experience. I think it makes sense.
Carlson, of course, has been the consummate career politician, working his way up through the decades from city councillor to legislator to state auditor to governor. But when it came time for him to choose a backdrop for his official portrait, Carlson decided against governmental scenery.
Carlson: I love the Capitol, don't get me wrong, but when you walk by the university, you get goosebumps for a whole variety of reasons.
The portrait has Carlson posed on the steps of the University of Minnesota's Morrill Hall, with Northrop Auditorium visible in the background. Carlson also wears a maroon university letter jacket, a variation on the yellow Gophers sweater he almost always wore around the governor's office. Carlson attended grad school at the university for a couple of years in the late '50s, and he's been a tireless booster ever since.

It seemed hardly a coincidence that his university-oriented portrait was unveiled on the same day the university raised the public profile of its biggest fundraising drive ever. University president Mark Yudof was right there next to Carlson to thank him for his support.
Yudof: The only thing the governor wanted was policy for the university that would make it the best that it could be, and that was the basis of our discussion, and I always appreciated that. And I guess this is a good occasion to say that there is a renaissance at the university, and that renaissance is due in great measure to Arne Carlson and his vision.
After the ceremony was over, Carlson lingered at least half an hour, greeting old members of his administration and reminiscing.
Carlson: It's kind of an odd moment. Any time you see a picture of yourself, obviously there's some distance between the picture and yourself, and coming here today, it finally dawns on you that everything is coming together, and now you really are a part of history.
But Carlson says he never regretted stepping down when he did, even though most political strategists thought he could have easily won a third term last year. In his three decades as a career politician, Carlson says he's learned the value of leaving office before his allies and enemies started taking him for granted.