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Kline’s decision shakes up 2016 election

A congressional seat without an incumbent doesn’t happen very often. It’s a prize that could tempt a state legislator to give up a secure seat.

Kline, 68, surprised many with his decision not to seek re-election.
MinnPost file photo by Craig Lassig

The following editorial appeared in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

John Kline’s impending retirement will go beyond changing the makeup of Minnesota’s congressional delegation.

Wheels already were in motion for 2016 to be a pivotal election year as all 201 state House and Senate seats are on the ballot. Kline’s decision not to run changes the dynamics even more as a congressional seat without an incumbent doesn’t happen very often. It’s a prize that could tempt a state legislator to give up a secure seat.

Since Kline announced he would not seek an eighth term to represent Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, well-known Republicans, such as Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Sen. Dave Thompson, of Lakeville and Mary Pawlenty, a former district court judge and wife of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, have emerged as possible contenders. David Gerson, a engineer from South St. Paul who has twice challenged Kline for the Republican endorsement, declared his candidacy in January.

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On the DFL side, Angie Craig, a former St. Jude Medical executive from Eagan, and Mary Lawrence, a Veterans Administration physician from Eagan, announced their intentions when it was assumed Kline would run for re-election. However, Kline’s retirement could attract better-known Democrats, such as Rep. Joe Atkins, of Inver Grove Heights.

The 2nd District, which extends from the southern Twin Cities suburbs to Goodhue and Wabasha counties, is considered a swing district. Even though Kline, one of the more conservative members of the U.S. House, was elected seven times, the 2nd District voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Sen. Al Franken in 2014. With a presidential race in play to generate higher voter turnout, Democrats are hopeful they can flip the 2nd District and increase their 5-3 majority in the U.S. House delegation.

Kline, 68, surprised many with his decision.

“It’s just kind of time to move on,” he said during the news conference announcing his decision against running for re-election.

Among the factors prompting him to not seek re-election is a House term-limit requirement that he give up his chairmanship of the Education and the Workforce Committee.

“I cannot continue as chairman past this Congress. That’s part of it,” he conceded.

Nevertheless, Kline emphasized he has plenty of work left to do during the remaining 16 months of his term, including the passage of a package to reform the No Child Left Behind K-12 education law, which requires all public schools receiving federal funding to administer a statewide standardized test annually to all students. If he can fashion meaningful reform of the unpopular federal law, it will be a worthy capstone to his legislative career that began after he defeated Democratic incumbent Bill Luther in 2002.

“It’s time to let someone else have a shot at it,” said Kline, who served 25 years in the Marine Corps, including time as a military aide to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. “I’ve enjoyed the fight.”

We have complimented Kline’s work many times during his seven terms, especially his leadership on veterans issues. But we’ve also taken him to task for being part of the gridlock that’s plagued Congress in recent years. Perhaps he’s enjoyed the fight too much.

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Some believe Kline’s retirement will be short lived as his name has been circulated for governor or U.S. Senate in 2018. If he chooses to run, we have no doubt he’ll influence the dynamics of those elections as well.

Reprinted with permission.


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