Governor’s (money pit) mansion is obvious nominee for Golden Turkey award

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The first person Tim Walz called after he became governor in 2018 was his real estate agent in Mankato. Since the job of governor includes the perk of living in a historic mansion on Summit Avenue, he could ditch his mortgage and move the family to St. Paul. After comfortably winning a second term, Walz proposed a $7 million renovation to the mansion, which quickly ballooned to $12 million over the summer. The Golden Turkey committee questions the need for the expensive renovations and, more broadly, the need for the residence in the first place.

In 1965, Olivia Dodge generously donated her family home on historic Summit Avenue in St. Paul to the State of Minnesota to be used as the official residence of the governor and his family. Most governors moved in temporarily during their tenure but also kept their family home. Gov. Tim Pawlenty had two daughters still in high school when he was governor, so the Pawlenty family used the mansion sparingly and mainly for meetings and social events. Jesse Ventura’s son infamously held wild parties at the residence when his parents stayed at their Maple Grove home on weekends. At one point, the State Patrol was collecting driver’s licenses of party guests to make sure there was no underage drinking. Democrats Mark Dayton and Tim Walz immediately sold their homes and moved into the mansion on Summit, saving themselves a monthly mortgage payment.

The effort to renovate the Governor’s mansion has been a problem from the very beginning. Since Walz sold his house, the first thing he had to do was find a place to live temporarily during construction. Somehow, he thought it would be a good idea to rent an 18,000 square-foot lakeside home in tiny Sunfish Lake with a monthly rent of $17,000. After getting pounded by the press and Republican lawmakers for the high rent, Walz was saved by a timely vacancy in the president’s house at the University of Minnesota and wisely decided to move there instead for considerably less rent. Hopefully we got the security deposit back on the Sunfish Lake property.

Next came news that the cost to renovate the mansion increased from $7 million to $12 million. We imagine the hosts of one of those home improvement shows dramatically telling Tim and Gwen Walz, “Turns out that’s a load-bearing wall. It’s gonna blow our entire reno budget.” The cost increases were so large they forced the Department of Administration to pause and ask legislative leaders for permission to proceed with the renovations. Since most legislative leaders imagine themselves living in the Governor’s Mansion someday, Walz had no trouble getting the green light. Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman told MPR she’s “not surprised it’s an expensive proposition to house the governor in a secure location.” They always fall back on the security issue.

For decades, Minnesota governors have used private fundraising to upgrade the mansion. At one point in the Ventura administration, the mansion was closed and the staff laid off. But the attitude of today’s state government is spend, spend, spend. “Spending money now will actually save us money later, so it’s fiscally conservative.” Always with someone else’s money.

The rent fiasco and cost increases make the governor’s mansion an easy nominee for a Golden Turkey this year. A vote for this project can also send the message to St. Paul that another solution should be found to safely (and affordably) house the governor and his family.

To vote for your choice for the 2023 Golden Turkey award, click here.