Harold P. LeVander Biography

In 1966, a little-known Republican Party activist named Harold LeVander organized his first campaign for elected office, aiming immediately for the governor’s chair. His victory over Karl Rolvaag, a DFLer whose campaign had suffered from party infighting in the primary season, made him the thirty-second governor of Minnesota.

Karl Harold Phillip LeVander was born in Nebraska, went to high school in Watertown, Minnesota, and graduated with honors from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1932. He went on to get his law degree from the University of Minnesota and began a thirty-year career at the South St. Paul law firm, Stassen & Ryan. LeVander served as an assistant county attorney for Dakota County (1935–1939) and also taught speech and coached debate at Macalester College until 1940. He was president of South St. Paul’s Chamber of Commerce from 1952 to 1954 and president of the South St. Paul United Federal Savings and Loan Association from 1953 until his inauguration.

LeVander rode into office with the highest vote total ever received by a Republican up to that point. Early in his term, the state legislature levied Minnesota’s first sales tax, overriding two gubernatorial vetoes. This led many Minnesotans to refer unfairly to the tax assessed on many purchases as “LeVander pennies.” As governor, he created the Metropolitan Council, the Pollution Control Agency, and the country’s first Human Rights Department. Also under his leadership, Minnesota became the first state to ratify the twenty-sixth amendment, which extended the right to vote to U.S. citizens eighteen and older.

Less than a month before the primary election of 1970, LeVander surprised everyone by announcing that he would not seek re-election. Instead, he chose to return to his law firm, now called LeVander, Gillen & Miller. He later became director of The St. Paul Companies (1973–1981), the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (1974–1981), and the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce (1975–1978). He continued to live a quiet and private life until his death in 1992.