ST PETER — State Rep. Terry Morrow — a St. Peter Democrat who has provided more than a few surprises to area residents since 1995 — announced Wednesday that he will be resigning from the Legislature as of Jan. 7 to take a job in Chicago.
Morrow, a professor at Gustavus Adolphus College, didn’t have a Republican opponent in the Nov. 6 election and was set to be sworn in for a fourth term in the House when the 2013 legislative session begins on Jan. 8. With redistricting, Morrow’s new district was dominated by Nicollet County but included parts of Mankato.
Morrow stated in a letter to colleagues that he was approached after Election Day by officials from the Uniform Law Commission with “an opportunity to lead its legislative efforts across the United States and to work with other countries on multinational legal issues.” The Commission, established in 1892, is made up of lawyers appointed by state governments to provide nonpartisan legislation to states to enhance stability and consistency between state laws, according to the ULC website.
“Departing a community and college and friends with whom we have shared our lives for almost 20 years led us to reflect carefully on this choice,” Morrow wrote. “Living here, raising our children here, working here has been a blessed experience for Martha and me.”
A special election will be held, likely in January, to choose Morrow’s replacement.
NYC to St. P
Morrow’s time in St. Peter has been marked by the unexpected, including his arrival. A New York native who was working in a private law firm in California, Morrow had no connection to St. Peter or Minnesota. But after doing some teaching as an adjunct faculty member in California, he decided he enjoyed that more than his attorney job. He picked up a doctorate at Northwestern University in Chicago in communications studies, and the couple began searching for a college town that looked like a good place to raise a family.
They landed in St. Peter and at Gustavus in 1995, purchasing a historic house in the valley only to see a devastating tornado sweep through the community three years later. Morrow credited the help provided to his family and to all of St. Peter following the tornado with his decision to give back to the community.
He began serving on various St. Peter commissions and boards and later was elected chairman of the St. Peter School Board.
In 2005 came an announcement that shocked even well-connected area Democrats — Democratic Rep. Ruth Johnson of St. Peter wasn’t going to seek re-election. The reason? Morrow wanted the job.
“In a democracy, we take turns,” Johnson said at the time, “and I am eager to support other candidates with the vision of traditional Minnesota values shared by citizens in our area.”
From target to unopposed
Morrow won a closely-fought election in 2006 and a more comfortable victory two years later.
The 2010 election brought another uncommon development — hundreds of TV attack ads showing a smiling Morrow as the captain of a cartoon yacht ignoring drowning cartoon people in the sea. While misleading TV ads are typical in statewide and federal races, they were virtually unheard of in a south-central Minnesota legislative races.
Morrow was in the sights of the Freedom Club PAC, funded by conservative Minnesota business-owners who saw the rural district as winnable. The PAC spent $37,000 on attack ads, surpassing Morrow’s entire campaign budget by $2,000, but he still won a 10-percentage point victory.
In 2012, the Republicans didn’t field a candidate against Morrow — likely the first time in history that the GOP didn’t have a candidate for a state House seat in Nicollet County.
There was also a more personal surprise from Morrow at the end of the 2011 legislative session when he revealed that he was the great-grandson of an African-American slave. He brought up the issue during debate on whether to put an amendment on the ballot to constitutionally ban gay marriage.
Morrow, noting that attitudes about marriage evolve, said his grandfather — who considered himself black — never visited his native North Carolina with his white wife because interracial marriage was illegal there until 1967.
Morrow, however, provided legislative successes along with quirky news during his six years in the House. He was relentless in drawing the attention of state transportation department officials to deaths on Highway 14 in his district. His letters demanding action contributed to the first MnDOT pledges to speed up improvements to the two-lane highway near North Mankato.
Morrow also worked to bring state bonding funds to modernize the Minnesota Prairie Line, Sibley County’s only railroad.
In his letter to lawmakers, Morrow suggested he’s far from irreplaceable.
“District 19A has so many gifted and dedicated people that I leave knowing that constituents will be well represented for years to come,” he wrote.
Under Minnesota law, Gov. Mark Dayton can set the date of the special election as soon as he’s aware of an impending legislative vacancy. He doesn’t have to wait until the seat is officially vacant, said Patricia Turgeon of the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.
Dayton could set the date as late as mid-February or as soon as mid-January. If Dayton wants to see the seat filled quickly, the only delay required by law is a minimum two-week gap between a primary election and the general election.
Filing periods can be less than a week in length for special elections, compared to the two-week time period allowed for regular elections. In 2011, a Jan. 13 letter of resignation by a House member resulted in a Feb. 15 special election.