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Minnesota Capitol to see greatest lawmaker turnover in 50 years, including fixture dealmakers

Fifty-seven state lawmakers announced that they would leave their seats due to redistricting, desires to seek another office or for personal reasons. The exits include some of the Capitol's best-known deal makers, opening room for one of the largest crops of new freshman legislators in decades.

Minnesota retiring lawmakers 2022
The Minnesota Legislature is set to lose hundreds of years of collective experience, including a host of former leaders and committee chairs, at the close of the 2022 legislative session. Some of those who will not be returning after this year include, clockwise from top left: Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook; Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake; Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth; Sen. David Tomassoni, I-Chisholm; Sen. Melisa López Franzen, DFL-Edina, and Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers with centuries worth of combined years of experience have said their last goodbyes at the state Capitol.

The group of 57 lawmakers — 23 state senators and 34 House representatives — is set to retire their seats in the Legislature, marking the biggest exodus of sitting lawmakers in more than 50 years, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

Among those set to step down are six current or former caucus leaders and 19 current committee chairs. The departures split pretty evenly across political parties and aren't expected to give either a decisive advantage heading into the 2022 election.

But they will mark the exit of some of the Capitol's best-known deal makers and open room for one of the largest crops of new freshman legislators in decades.

About two dozen legislators were set to retire their seats after their districts were redrawn after the 2020 redistricting and they were paired with another sitting legislator. More could opt not to run ahead of the deadline to file next week.

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The post-redistricting turnover is common in the Legislature, but Minnesota hasn't seen this large a group of lawmakers leave since 1972.

Meanwhile, 11 House representatives have said they'll run for seats in the Senate and one senator has announced his intentions to pursue a House seat. Two former contenders for the Republican gubernatorial endorsement, Sens. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, and Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said they would also retire.

"I'm glad I'm not running for governor so I can tell you how much I love you guys," Gazelka said as he gestured toward Senate Democrats in a retirement speech Monday, May 23.

Benson in a speech recalled bringing her 4-day-old daughter to the Capitol and having Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, ask to hold her after a contentious bill hearing.

“This was not about the fights that happen outside — yes we do that — but there’s a humanity and a connectedness that we need to survive in this place,” Benson said.

Another eight legislators have announced they are running, or ran unsuccessfully for county or congressional offices. Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL-Duluth, is set to challenge U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican, in the 8th Congressional District.

The remainder said they planned to leave the Legislature to pursue personal goals or because they faced health concerns.

"I treasure the time I have been able to work in the Senate and I use the word 'work' because this is serious business," Sen. David Tomassoni, I-Chisholm, said during his retirement speech. "Doing the people's work comes with a lot of personal sacrifice and responsibility and is oftentimes hard on family. But it has its allure, the positives outweigh the negatives."

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Tomassoni has represented the Iron Range at the Capitol for three decades. Last year he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and has since lost control over some of his body function.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, March 30, signed into law a proposal to fund research to treat, prevent and cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS.

Earlier this year, Tomassoni led a push to approve $20 million in state funding for research to better understand, and possibly cure ALS, and to increase support for caregivers.

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, looked back on his 20 years serving at the Capitol during his speech and reflected on the times that he joined with those from other regions or political backgrounds to work together. Senjem is a prior Senate majority leader.

3763342+0B52DXJ0KvwFrd3Z5aF8tRU9mdmM.jpg
Minnesota Sen. David Senjem of Rochester holds up a credit card Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, to illustrate problems with preventing identify theft. He is a sponsor of legislation designed to help ID theft victims.
Don Davis / Forum News Service

"We're this fabric of Minnesota. And we all come together, different people from different places, and yet we come here and we try to do the good will of the people," Senjem said. "That is the greatness of this place."

Senjem has filed to run for an Omsted County Commissioner seat.

Calls for change at the Capitol

In their closing speeches, many of the departing lawmakers highlighted positive memories of the Capitol and touted some of their accomplishments, but others urged changes to boost transparency, improve family presence at Legislature and better include minority communities.

Sen. Tom Bakk, a Cook independent who previously served as a Senate DFL majority and minority leader, pressed Gov. Tim Walz to include more committee leaders in late-session negotiations. His comments came a day after the session closed without resolution on several landmark bills.

Bakk was involved in multiple sets of similar talks with former Gov. Mark Dayton and then-House Majority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

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"I think both the governor and the leaders should be very careful about pointing fingers over the next few weeks and figure out how we get to a better outcome than where we left last night," Bakk said. "It did not serve the people of the state very well and there's a lot of blame to go around."

Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen, DFL-Edina, was the first Latina woman to represent her district and held the seat for 10 years. Earlier this year she announced she would retire after she was paired with Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, in her district.

She said she worried about the growing divisions in politics at the Capitol and warned about keeping the Legislature a place focused on solutions, regardless of which party they stem from.

"We as an institution are doing a disservice to our democracy when we seek power more than doing the right thing, when we see one another as enemies instead of colleagues and we say things that our children should never hear," López Franzen said. "We must correct this at once."

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Legislative changes in 2022

Retirements

  • Rep. Tony Albright (R-55B)
  • Sen. Tom Bakk (I-3)
  • Sen. Michelle Benson (R-31)
  • Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-41A)
  • Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-57)
  • Rep. Shelly Christensen (DFL-39B)
  • Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-63A)
  • Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-39A)
  • Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-40)
  • Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-4)
  • Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-15A)
  • Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-9)
  • Sen. Michael Goggin (R-21)
  • Rep. Barb Haley (R-21A)
  • Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-22B)
  • Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-66A)
  • Sen. Bill G. Ingebrigtsen (R-8)
  • Sen. Jason Isaacson (DFL-42)
  • Sen. Ann Johnson Stewart (DFL-44)
  • Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-53)
  • Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-30)
  • Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-20B)
  • Sen. Melisa López Franzen (DFL-49)
  • Rep. Dale Lueck (R-10B)
  • Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-65B)
  • Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-4B)
  • Rep. Tim Miller (R-17A)
  • Sen. Scott Newman (R-18)
  • Sen. David Osmek (R-33)
  • Rep. John Poston (R-9A)
  • Sen. Julie Rosen (R-23)
  • Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-10)
  • Rep. Steve Sandell (DFL-53B)
  • Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-11A)
  • Sen. David Tomassoni (I-6)
  • Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-63)
  • Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-38B)

House members seeking Senate seats in 2022

  • Rep. Cal Bahr (R-31B)
  • Rep. Liz Boldon (DFL-25B)
  • Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-21B)
  • Rep. Steve Green (R-2B)
  • Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-18B)
  • Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-54B)
  • Rep. Eric Lucero (R-30B)
  • Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL-33B)
  • Rep. Jordan Rasmusson (R-8A)
  • Rep. Tama Theis (R-14A)
  • Rep. Tou Xiong (DFL-53A)

Senate member seeking House seats in 2022

  • Sen. Jerry Newton (DFL-37)

Members seeking another office in 2022

  • Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL-54)
  • Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-65A)
  • Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-23B)
  • Rep. Nels Pierson (R-26B)
  • Rep. Jen Schultz (DFL-7A)
  • Sen. David Senjem (R-25)
  • Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-43)
  • Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-46A)
MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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