Long-time county commissioner and former state legislator Doug Carlson, 74, of Sandstone, died Monday evening.
Carlson was found deceased around 6:30 p.m. in the men’s restroom on the second floor of the Pine County Courthouse. Emergency responders determined Carlson had been deceased for some time. Remains were transported to the Ramsey County medical examiner for a postmortem examination. Carlson was last seen leaving a meeting around 5 p.m. Monday.
This investigation remains open pending the findings of the medical examiner, but no criminal activity is suspected.
For the past several years, Carlson has put up a valiant fight against cancer.
His former wife, Karen Carlson, said people always appreciated his honesty.
“He continued to serve his constituents even though he was in constant pain the last few years,” Karen said.
Monday, Carlson attended the Pine County Economics Future Workshop.
“I am even more honored to know that many of us spent the afternoon in a meeting with him where he was advocating for and justifying the investment in the future of our region,” said Sandstone Chamber of Commerce President Maria Lourey-Bowen in an email to fellow chamber members. “Doug spent some of his last hours discussing and commenting specifically on Sandstone and other areas of Pine County. We thank him for all he has done and we commit to continuing in his memory to work towards enhancing Sandstone and our region.”
Carlson, a Republican, served 18 years as a state legislator and more than 10 years as a county commissioner. He served in the Legislature from 1971 to 1974, and 1977 to 1990. He represented Pine, and parts of Aitkin, Carlton, Kanabec and St. Louis counties while in the Legislature. He was the assistant minority leader in the late 1970s.
In 1990, Democrat Becky Lourey defeated Carlson by less than 200 votes, which should have led to an automatic recount. However, Carlson waived his right to that process and Lourey was named the winner of the House seat.
“Doug Carlson cared very much about the people and the economy of our area,” Becky Lourey said of Carlson. “He never stopped working for the benefit of our region. As a county commissioner, he used the great wealth of knowledge he gleaned from working on the land, working in business, working with Karen on the importance of a quality education and serving in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
“Doug and I became great friends. There was always such excitement when Doug came down to the State Capitol to testify on a piece of legislation we were working for together.
“Doug and I had such fun as we were working together to save our hospital in Sandstone. Each time we appeared in front of a panel, Doug started the presentation out with these words, ‘You can tell this isn’t a partisan issue; here we are together fighting to save our hospital.’”
A graduate of Sandstone High School, Carlson was a lifelong resident of Pine County. Carlson was a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1966 and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1968.
Carlson was also an Air Force veteran and previously served on the school board.
With almost 30 years in politics, Carlson also served on the committee opposed to splitting Pine County.
“We will miss Doug deeply. He has been a great mentor to us. He really taught us through his actions to respectfully hold to our convictions but also that compromise is not a dirty word,” said county board chair Stephen Hallan of Pine City, of Carlson’s passing.
The county board will be meeting to determine how to fill Carlson’s open board seat.
As a member of the county board, the public always knew where Carlson stood on issues. If he was the lone vote against an issue, Carlson would many times state his reason, but also state there would be no hard feelings if he didn’t get another vote in his direction, many times with funny one-liners.
In a March 2011 county board meeting, Carlson asked new Sheriff Robin Cole if he wanted an officer on every corner.
“If I could, I would,” Cole told Carlson.
“I don’t think I would want that,” quipped Carlson.
As a member of the county board, he also used his political connections to lobby current state government employees and legislators on issues directly affecting Pine County.
Carlson was very popular in the Sandstone area. The last two elections, he did not face opposition when he ran again.
While he was popular amongst the voters, he at times did do battle with the city of Sandstone. When the city sought to originally tear down his old milk drying plant, he appealed the decision, but was unsuccessful.
The past few years, Carlson was an ardent supporter of the proposed Northern Lights Express (NLX), often saying he knew there was opposition to it, but believed passenger rail service was part of the future of the state.
Methven Funeral Home in Sandstone is handling arrangements. A visitation will be held Saturday, April 27, 5-7 p.m. at Methven. The funeral will be held at Sandstone Evangelical Free Church at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 28.