Kline won’t seek 8th term in Congress

By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger St. Paul Pioneer Press ST. PAUL -- With his committee chairmanship expiring and more days spent golfing and fishing on his mind, Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline announced Thursday he would not run for an eighth term ne...

By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL -- With his committee chairmanship expiring and more days spent golfing and fishing on his mind, Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline announced Thursday he would not run for an eighth term next year.

“Time is moving on. I’ve loved the work. I continue to love the work, there is always a fight there, but it is time,” he said. “It is time to let somebody else have a shot at it.”


A retired Marine colonel, the 67-year-old Kline arrived in Congress in 2002, running three times before unseating a Democratic incumbent in Minnesota’s 2nd District, covering the southern Twin Cities metro area. He rose to become an ally of House Speaker John Boehner and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Although Kline handily won re-election in recent years, his south suburban and rural district is increasingly competitive. It is one of just a handful nationwide that a Republican holds but Democratic President Barack Obama won in 2012. With Kline out of the running, the race will become one the most watched - and most costly - House elections in the country.

“It is essentially a swing district,” Kline admitted Thursday.


As quickly as word of Kline’s retirement spread to Washington, D.C., political handicappers moved Minnesota’s 2nd district from an fairly assured Republican hold to a toss-up election that anyone could win.

Two well-funded Democrats were already running to best Kline, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has kept an increasingly close eye the district.

In the second quarter of the year, Democrat candidate Angie Craig had actually outraised Kline, and Democratic candidate Mary Lawrence had lent her campaign enough money to bring her bank balance on par with Kline’s. Their hefty coffers - and the expected multimillion-dollar nature of the race - will mean that any new candidates will have to quickly start raising money.


With Kline out of the race, state Rep. Joe Atkins, an Inver Grove Heights Democrat and a prodigious fundraiser, said he would decide whether to join the race next week.

The volume of Republican interest is even more overflowing.

Although the district will be tougher to win - and hold - than the recently open 6th Congressional District seat, the rare vacant U.S. House seat set a horde of ambitious GOP minds to considering.

State lawmakers, county commissioners, former U.S. Senate candidates and even former First Lady Mary Pawlenty have been mentioned as possible Republican contestants.

On Thursday, several Republicans said they were considering runs. Many said they had not yet had a chance to think through the possibilities, but very few ruled it out.

One potential candidate, however, was very clear on his thoughts.

“I would rather stick a fork in my eye than run for Congress,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.

Kline said he does not know who will run to take his place and does not have a favorite right now.


“I’m not pushing anybody,” he said.

Work left to do

Despite the rush to figure out the politics that will come after Kline leaves, the retiring representative stressed that he still has 16 months left in his term and work left to do.

The seven-term member from Burnsville is charged with representing the House in the upcoming negotiations over the No Child Left Behind federal education law rewrite.

“I am going to continue to be a chairman of a big important committee,” Kline said.

Compromising the Republican House desires with the Republican and Democratic senate needs could take until next summer, Kline said recently. But, he also said he did factor into his retirement decision the fact that he could not serve as the committee chair in 2017, given chair term-limits in the House.

A career Marine who carried the briefcase of nuclear decision-making tools for presidents, Kline also plans to continue his work on veterans and military affairs issues. Just days before he announced his retirement, he said he planned to introduce legislation to “protect veterans from erroneous and untimely billing practices by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.”


On Thursday, Kline, a member of the Arms Services Committee, said working on the “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon” program to integrate returning service members was among his proudest accomplishments.

Kline will also spend time receiving accolades from colleagues and competitors. Democrats and Republicans alike poured out praise Thursday.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he respected Kline’s “sincerity and integrity.” Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen thanked Kline for his “friendship and guidance.” Even his current Democratic opponents thanked him for his service and said admiring words about his career.

As to what’s next, Kline declined any ambitions to join a 2017 Republican presidential administration, should one materialize, and laughed when asked whether he would consider a run for governor or the U.S. Senate.

“I, of course, would never say never, but it’s certainly - absolutely certainly - not in any plans of mine,” Kline said. “What happens to be after January 2017 remains to be seen. I expect to take up some new challenges in life which I do not yet know what those will be, but I’m sure it will be exciting.”

Bill Salisbury contributed to this report.


The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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