Dakota Datebook

Martin Sabo

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Martin Sabo may be the most famous native North Dakotan to gain political notoriety in Minnesota. Martin Olav Sabo was born on this date, February 28th, 1938 to Norwegian immigrant parents in Crosby, county seat of Divide County in northwestern North Dakota. Sabo left the state to attend Augsburg College in Minneapolis, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1959. He stayed in the Twin Cities to pursue graduate studies at the University of Minnesota and soon became involved in state politics, becoming elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives for the first time in 1960 at the age of 22. Sabo soon worked his way to the top of the state DFL party, serving as minority leader from ’69 to ’72, then as house speaker from 1973 to 1978.


When Congressman Don Frasier stepped down to run to run for the US Senate, Sabo became the Democratic candidate to succeed him in Minnesota’s 5th district, winning the 1978 election easily. The 5th congressional district, one of 8 in Minnesota, includes the city of Minneapolis and is heavily Democratic and loyal. Just three DFLers, including the present congressman, Keith Ellison, have represented the district, continuously since 1963. It should come as no surprise that conservative groups consider Sabo as “extremely liberal” and liberal groups consider him “progressive”. Martin Sabo considers himself a “liberal de-centrist”, preferring progressive politics, but local control instead of federal control. You get the feeling that he would have fit right in with the old NPL or Non-Partisan League of North Dakota.


In March of 2006, Sabo announced he would not run for reelection to the 110th Congress, ending 46 years as an elected official. Including 28 years in Congress…the second longest tenure in either house in Minnesota history, behind only fellow Democrat, Jim Oberstar. You may have heard of Sabo’s replacement, Keith Ellison, who, this past November became not only the first African-American elected to the House from Minnesota, but also the first Muslim to ever be elected to the United States Congress.


Sabo, a good old Scandinavian Lutheran, is the married father of two, with six grandchildren. Politics runs in the family…his daughter, Julie is a former member of the Minnesota State Senate, and was the DFL candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2002.


Martin Sabo received many awards and honors during his career, but none topped his being appointed Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit on December 6th, 2006. Upon being awarded the Knight’s Cross, Sabo said, “I am proud to have been involved in Norwegian matters during my time in Congress. Your involvement in peace negotiation processes helps people around the world. All can learn from you.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merrill Piepkorn










This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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