Tom Emmer Is 4th Minnesotan to Serve In US House Leadership Post
The 6th District Congressman is the first from the state elected to a leadership position in the chamber in 100 years
Following the election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the U.S. House late last week, Minnesota Republican U.S. Representative Tom Emmer officially became the Majority Whip of the chamber.
Emmer, who was elected by his conference to the position in late November, ascended to this leadership slot after winning reelection to a fifth term earlier that month.
Of the 143 Minnesotans to serve as U.S. Representative from the Gopher State, Rep. Emmer joins just three others to hold a Democratic or Republican leadership post.
To date, all four of these U.S. House party leaders from Minnesota have been Republicans.
Winona’s James Tawney was the first.
Like Emmer, Tawney first served in the state legislature (State Senator, 1891-1893), and was elected to the state’s 1st CD in 1892.
After winning election to a third term in 1896, Tawney became the House Majority Whip – the first individual to hold the newly created position in the legislative body. [Democrats elected their first whip two years later].
Tawney was the GOP Whip for the 55th through the 58th Congresses (1897-1905).
Rep. Tawney would go on to serve nine terms in the U.S. House, but in September 1910 he became the first Minnesota U.S. Representative to be defeated in a primary – losing to Lanesboro attorney Sydney Anderson by 11.6 points.
At the close of the decade, St. Cloud newspaperman Harold Knutson became Majority Whip for the 66th and 67th Congresses (1919-1923).
Knutson had been elected to only his second term from the 6th CD in 1918 when he replaced New York Republican Charles Hamilton as Whip. Hamilton retired from the chamber that cycle.
While Knutson would serve only two terms as Whip, he would ultimately serve 16 terms in the chamber (1917-1949) before losing election in 1948 to DFL Grove City farmer Fred Marshall.
The aforementioned Sydney Anderson is the fourth Minnesotan to serve in leadership in the U.S. House.
Twelve years after defeating Tawney in the 1st CD GOP primary, Anderson was named Republican Conference Chairman for the 68th Congress (1923-1925) replacing Iowa’s Horace Towner.
Anderson did not run for an eighth term in 1924.
No Democrats or DFLers have held leadership positions in the U.S. House from Minnesota and no member of the state’s congressional delegation has served as Speaker of the House, Majority Leader, or Minority Leader.
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Emmer is also a former candidate for higher office; he was the Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota in 2010, narrowly losing to Mark Dayton. How many others have held or sought a higher office prior to becoming a member of the U.S. House and attaining one of the “top five” party leadership positions (speaker, majority leader and whip, minority leader and whip)?
The following examples come to mind:
*John Jacob Rhodes (R-Ariz.) was the Republican nominee for attorney-general of Arizona in 1950, was elected to the House in 1952, and served as minority leader from 1973 to 1981 [succeeding Gerald Ford].
*Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.) served as White House chief of staff to president Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977, was elected to the House in 1978, and served as minority whip for two months in 1989 before resigning to become U.S. secretary of defense.
*Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Missouri in 1980, served as secretary of state of Missouri from 1985 to 1993, and ran for governor of Missouri in 1992 [placing second in the Republican primary]. He was elected to the House in 1996, and served as majority whip from 2003 to 2007 and minority whip from 2007 to 2009.
*Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) ran for secretary of state of South Carolina in 1978 and in 1986 [placing second in the Democratic primary both times to John Tucker Campbell], was elected to the House in 1992, and served as majority whip from 2007 to 2011 and from 2019 to 2023.
*Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was the leading Democratic candidate to be the inaugural executive of Prince George’s County in 1971 [placing third behind two Republicans], and ran for lieutenant governor of Maryland in 1978 [placing second in the Democratic primary]. He was elected to the House in 1981, and served as minority whip or majority leader from 2003 to 2023.
A handful of others sought a higher office while a sitting member of the House, but before attaining a leadership position:
*Hale Boggs (D-La.), elected to the House in 1946 [having previously served from 1941 to 1943], ran for governor of Louisiana in 1952, placing third in the Democratic primary. He later became majority whip from 1962 to 1971 and majority leader from 1971 to his disappearance in 1972.
*Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), first elected to the House in 1976, ran for president in 1988; he won the Iowa caucus as well as the presidential primaries in South Dakota and Missouri. He then became majority leader from 1989 to 1995 and minority leader from 1995 to 2003, when he stepped down to run for president a second time in 2004.
If we broaden the list of party leadership positions to include the chair of the party caucus/conference [generally the next highest-ranking members of each party], we have a few more examples:
*Robert Luce (R-Mass.) served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1912 to 1913, was elected to the House in 1918, and served as chair of the House GOP conference from 1933 to 1935.
*Gillis William Long (D-La.) ran for governor of Louisiana in 1964 and in 1972 [placing third in the Democratic primary both times], was elected to the House in 1972 [having previously served from 1963 to 1965, defeated for renomination by his cousin Speedy Long], and served as chair of the House Democratic caucus from 1981 to 1985.
*Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) served as senior advisor to president Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1998, was elected to the House in 2002, and served as chair of the House Democratic caucus from 2007 to 2009.
*John B. Larson (D-Conn.) ran for governor of Connecticut in 1994 [placing second in the Democratic primary], was elected to the House in 1998, and served as chair of the House Democratic caucus from 2009 to 2013.
Also, Joseph W. Martin, Jr. (R-Mass.), who led the House GOP from 1939 to 1959 and thus served as speaker or minority leader during that period, was concurrently chair of the Republican National Committee from 1940 to 1942.
*Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) ran for U.S. senator from Wyoming in 2014 but withdrew before the primary. She was elected to the House in 2016, and served as chair of the House GOP conference from 2019 to her ouster in 2021.
Compared to this post, John Chessant’s writing is more helpful.