In 2016, the Minnesota Legislature will say goodbye to: two leading experts on the tax code; a lawmaker who probably best understands the state’s complicated web of health and human service programs; and the biggest champion of repealing the state’s ban on Sunday liquor sales.
Between early retirements and those not seeking re-election this fall, 20 legislators have already departed or announced their departure from public service — a crop that includes some of Minnesota’s most experienced politicians.
A wave of retirements is a common phenomenon when a two-year political cycle comes to a close and a new election season kicks off in earnest. But this year’s group is particularly noteworthy, as many of the lawmakers stepping down are senior female members of the Senate DFL caucus, while others represent some of more independent voices in state politics. Here, a look at the legislators who are stepping down, and what they’re going to leave behind:
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer
Stumpf is one of the longest serving legislators in St. Paul, first elected in 1980 to the state House. He’s currently chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, where he has a lot of say over how the state’s bonding bill is put together. Stumpf was previously chair of the Senate K-12 and higher education committees, where he helped craft the state’s post secondary open enrollment program and the Minnesota Education Telecommunication Council. After 36 years in service, Stumpf now wants to spend more time with his grown children and grandchildren.
Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport
The retirement of Sieben was a surprise to most Capitol watchers, who considered her a politician on the rise. At home, Sieben comes from a long line of politicians, and she served in Senate leadership as the assistant majority leader. She was also in the mix of names as a potential candidate to run alongside Gov. Mark Dayton as lieutenant governor in 2014. But after 14 years in St. Paul, Sieben is stepping away and “exploring other opportunities.” Before leaving, Sieben will lead on an effort in the Senate to push paid parental leave for state workers and other employees.
Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights
Atkins has spent much of his nearly 15 years in St. Paul working on consumer advocacy issues. He’s pushed to crack down on payday lenders, protect senior citizens from scams and get unclaimed property from the state back to its owners. He previously chaired the House Commerce Committee. He says he’s most proud of laws he authored to improve fire safety, help police find missing children and toughen meth and sex offender laws. In lieu of the state House, which Atkins said is too partisan, he’s considering a run for a seat on the Dakota County Board.
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing
Kelly is considered one of the more measured and moderate members of the House Republican caucus. He showed that side in 2011, when he was only one of two House Republicans to vote against putting an amendment to ban gay marriage on the ballot. He was also picked by House leadership to chair the Transportation Committee, a position that puts him at the center of a major debate with Senate Democrats heading into the 2016 session.
Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore
First elected in 2012, Anderson said he never wanted to spend a long time in St. Paul and put a self-imposed term limit on his service in the state House. A pilot who also owns a brewery up in Nisswa, he wants to spend more time on the other facets of his life. But not before going out with a bang: Anderson has authored a bill that proposes to abolish MNsure, the controversial state-run health insurance exchange.
Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul
After more than 42 years in St. Paul, Metzen grew to be one of the most pragmatic legislators inside the state Capitol, known for his ability to work with both sides of the aisle. He was first elected to the House at 31-years-old, serving six terms before running for a Senate seat in 1986. He previously served as president of the Minnesota Senate and currently serves as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. Late last year, Metzen announced he was receiving treatment for cancer at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic, and by January, he announced he would not seek another term in the fall.
Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing
Melin spent just five years in St. Paul, but in that time she became a central figure in several major debates, from establishing the state’s first medical marijuana program to passing the Women’s Economic Security Act. She also managed to break through a gender barrier on the Iron Range, being the first women elected to represent the area since the 1980s. But Melin announced in January that she intends to step down after this term, spending more time with her family and on her law career.
Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud
First elected to the Senate in the Republican wave of 2010, Pederson quickly became a part of major debates in St. Paul, from bonding to the minimum wage. Pederson, who runs a small construction company, served as vice chair of the Republican Capital Investment Committee for two years and was even briefly in the running to replace U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in the 6th District. But in early January, Pederson told the St. Cloud Times he decided to leave the Senate to spend more time with his family and on his professional career.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville
Thompson is the most recent in a rapid string of legislator retirements, announcing Tuesday morning that he would not seek a third term to the upper chamber. In his relatively short time in St. Paul, Thompson quickly shot up the ranks in the Senate Republican caucus, even taking a run at the governor’s office in 2014. The talk-radio regular and attorney was a frequent sparring partner for top Democrats in the Senate, but he didn’t shy away form criticizing his own caucus, either. Thompson is moving to North Carolina for his job with Renters Warehouse, where he is currently vice president and general counsel.
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato
Over the course of a decade in state politics, Sheran took on some of the most complicated — and unpopular — issues facing the state. Most of her work was done in the area of public health and human services, starting with a bill in her first term that banned secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants. Since then, she’s worked on everything from major overhauls to Minnesota’s controversial sex-offender treatment program to a proposal that made improvements to the state’s scattered child protection system. Last week, Sheran announced she won’t seek another term, but she will continue on as chair of the Senate HHS Policy Committee in her final year in office.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth
Reinert spent just one term in the state House and two in the Senate, but he will remembered by many as the state’s leading champion of repealing Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor sales. While the law is still on the books, Reinert managed to push the issue further in the Legislature than it had ever gone before. He had some smaller victories, too, including a successful effort last session to allow Minnesotans to buy growlers on Sundays. But Reinert says he’s ready to move on: “2015 was amazing. I finished my first year of law school, was promoted to Lt. Commander in the Navy, and most importantly — got married,” he said. “2016 is the right time for the next chapter of life.”
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen
When it comes to long, complex policy debates on the Senate floor, Ortman is usually one of the first Republicans to rise to the challenge. The former Senate Taxes Committee chairwoman is well-versed on some of the most complicated issues in state government. But in looking back at her legacy, Ortman, an attorney, most often touts her work in the area of criminal and civil law, including treatment of mentally ill offenders, expungement of criminal records and early release of some low-level offenders. She was first elected to the Senate in 2002.
Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights
Goodwin had two stints in state politics, first as a state House member in the early 2000s, and then returning as a state senator in 2011. An outspoken member of the Senate DFL caucus, Goodwin is comfortable speaking her mind when she disagrees with Republicans — or the leadership of her own party. She was known for her work on mental health issues, including an effort last session to put funding toward a new hub in Minnesota to keep those living with mental illness from ending up in the state’s jails. She quietly announced she wouldn’t not seek re-election at DFL political event in her district.
Sen. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada
A wildlife artist who spends her days painting animals and fish, Scalze will probably best be remembered for pushing the 2008 Legacy Amendment, which dedicated a portion of state sales taxes to conservation, arts, parks and heritage. She still sits on the Clean Water Council, which helps distribute a third of those funds to various water conservation projects, but after four terms in the state House and one term in the Senate, Scalze says she’s ready to retire and spend time with her grandchildren — and get back to her painting.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover
Petersen, like so many other young legislators before him, opted to retire from politics because it was hard to support his growing family on part-time legislator pay. During his two terms in the Senate, Petersen had a distinct libertarian bent, becoming the only Republican senator to support and co-sponsor a bill to legalize gay marriage. And he spent most of his time in office focusing on a slew of data privacy issues. He will be replaced in a Feb. 9 special election.
Sen. Dave Brown, R-Becker
As a new member in 2011, Brown quickly became comfortable speaking on the floor and in front of the cameras. He was often at the side of Senate GOP leadership at press conferences. But after two terms in the state Senate, Brown announced in May he wouldn’t seek a third term. Like Petersen, Brown said found it hard to balance the requirements of being a legislator with his professional aspirations.
Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester
Over her decade-long career in the state House, Norton helped pass a bill to reinstate newborn screenings, and a law that allows law enforcement to pull over drivers for failing to fasten their seatbelt. She also helped secure state funding for Rochester’s massive Destination Medical Center, the multibillion-dollar economic development project to be anchored by the Mayo Clinic. She leaves behind a seat that, before her, hadn’t been held by a Democrat in decades. But Norton says she’s not done yet: She will spend her final year in office taking on the gun lobby in an effort to pass new gun-control legislation.
Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington
In November, Lenczewski’s decision to step down from her longtime suburban House seat caused a stir, for several reasons. First, she was the chamber’s most experienced member on state taxes, chairing the committee when the DFL was in control of the chamber. Second, she was taking a new job as a lobbyist for the powerful firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen. “There is no one at the Capitol – indeed, few in the entire state – who knew and cared as much about taxes,” DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said about her departure. A special election to replace her will be held on Feb. 9, one month before the 2016 session convenes.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley
During his five terms in the state House, Winkler worked to revamp the state’s campaign finance laws and was one of the biggest proponents of the state’s new $9.50 minimum wage (which will go into full effect later this year). But he will be remembered by most for his quick wit and feisty speeches on the House floor. He resigned from his seat in June after his wife took a new job as senior vice president and general counsel for Rezidor Hotel Group, a hotel management firm based in Brussels. On Nov. 3, voters elected longtime DFL activist Peggy Flanagan to replace Winkler in the Legislature.
Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake
For 10 years, Dill represented the wild and sprawling House District 3A in the northeastern corner of the state. A commercial pilot and avid outdoorsmen, Dill focused his time in politics on issues like mining, outdoor recreation and natural resources and economic development, and often broke with his DFL caucus over social issues like gun control. He died in August after a battle with cancer. His successor has already been sworn into office: Former Koochiching County Commissioner Rob Ecklund.