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Minnesota Legislature

Take two: Legacy of siblings serving together in Legislature dates back a century

There is a long history of siblings serving together at the State Capitol. House Photography file photo

In Minnesota, politics have long been a family affair, with members of the same families even serving alongside each other in the Legislature.

Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) and Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault) are the first brother-sister duo to serve in the House together.

Daniels decided to run for office after O’Neill asked him to keep an eye out for a good candidate in his district, and she helped him campaign. They cite a shared family tradition of public service as part of their inspiration to run for office and have continued to support each other, they said in a 2015 Session Daily article, during Daniels’ first term.

But siblings have been working alongside each other in the Legislature for more than a century.

In 1886, Minnesotans elected a pair of siblings who emigrated from Norway to Minnesota almost 30 years before. Swen Swenson (1887-88) represented Nicollet County in the House while his brother, Lars Swenson (1887-90) served Hennepin County in the Senate.

In the 1910s, another set of Swenson brothers – Swen Swenson’s great grandsons – also took on the House and the Senate at the same time.

Republican Oscar A. Swenson represented Nicollet and Sibley counties in the House from 1913-32 and in the Senate from 1937-50. His long legislative career overlapped briefly with his older brother’s after Carl L. Swenson (1915-18) was elected to the Senate in a nonpartisan election, representing Freeborn County.

During that overlapping term, both brothers served on committees focused on “Dairy Products and Live Stock,” with Oscar chairing the House committee.

Judson Leroy Day’s time in the House representing Steele County (1931-34) overlapped with his brother, Walter E. Day’s time representing Clearwater, Pennington, and Red Lake counties (1919-34; 1937-60). While both brothers left office in 1934, Walter was re-elected in 1937 and served until 1960, making him one of the longest-serving legislators in Minnesota history.

The brothers served together on the House Dairy Products and Live Stock Committee during the 1931 and 1932 sessions and on the Agriculture and Horticulture Committee in the ensuing two years, with Walter as the committee chair. They were both elected in nonpartisan elections, but Walter is listed as belonging to the Liberal Caucus beginning in 1945.

The 1970s saw an impressive four sets of siblings serving together.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gary Lee Doty’s time in the House representing St. Louis County (1975-76) overlapped with his brother’s, Ralph R. Doty’s, time in the Senate (1971-76) representing St. Louis, Cook, and Lake counties. Ralph is initially listed as a member of the Liberal Caucus in 1971 and as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Caucus after 1973.

The brothers from Duluth also shared backgrounds in education, with Gary’s occupation listed as “educator” and Ralph’s listed as an Associate Professor at the College of St. Scholastica.

Arnold E. Kempe (1975-78) served alongside his younger brother Raymond “Ray” J. Kempe (1973-80) in the House for three years, representing districts in Ramsey and Dakota counties. Both were lawyers and University of Minnesota alumni, finishing their Bachelor of Arts degrees together in 1950 and acquiring their Juris Doctorates in 1956.

In 1971, Donald M. Moe began his first term in the House and his brother, Roger D. Moe began his first term in the Senate, where he served until 2002 and became the state’s longest-serving majority leader.

Harry A. "Tex" Sieben, former House speaker

Donald served in the House for nine years and was elected to the Senate in 1981, where he served alongside his brother for another nine years, until 1990. During that time, they served on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee together.

Harry A. “Tex” Sieben, Jr., (1971-84), another Democratic-Farmer-Labor party member who started as a member of the Liberal Caucus, was joined in the House by his brother, and fellow DFLer Michael “Mike” R. Sieben (1973-82) for five terms. Harry served as Speaker of the House from 1981 to 1984.

Fewer sets of siblings served together in the 1980s and 1990s.

Jeff Bertram was elected to the House in 1986, six years after his brother, Joe Bertram, Sr., was elected to the Senate, both as DFLers.

Michael R. "Mike" Sieben

Their time in the Minnesota Legislature came to an end, however, in 1996, when Joe resigned prior to pleading guilty to shoplifting charges. Jeff announced his intention not to seek re-election following allegations of harassment and abusive behavior, which resulted in hearings before the House ethics committees, censure, and a public apology.

The first sibling duo of the 21st century is also one of the rare sibling pairs divided by party, including current Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul), first elected in 2005. For two years, 2011-12, his career overlapped with his brother, Sen. Ted Lillie (R-Lake Elmo).

An additional 15 sets of siblings both served in the House, but at different times, while 10 sets of siblings served at different times and in different bodies.

Three sets of siblings (all brothers) include one sibling who served in Minnesota’s territorial government and another who served after Minnesota achieved statehood.


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