Pending lawmaker retirements spur lots of speculation

ST. PAUL -- Two things often are shrouded in secrecy in the legislative session's final weeks: budget deals and pending lawmaker retirements. Minnesota House members stand for election this fall, and some representatives are keeping their future ...

ST. PAUL -- Two things often are shrouded in secrecy in the legislative session's final weeks: budget deals and pending lawmaker retirements.

Minnesota House members stand for election this fall, and some representatives are keeping their future plans under wraps until the end of session.

"There's lots of variables -- like everybody," said a coy Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, who is among lawmakers whose political future has been the source of speculation.

Seven of the 134 House members already have publicly said they will not seek re-election, the most recent being a surprise announcement by Democratic Rep. Frank Moe of Bemidji. Four Republicans and three Democrats are known to be retiring, but others likely will follow suit before May 19, the Legislature's deadline.

"There's always some surprises," said House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, who expects a few more retirements.


The House typically reserves time on the last day of its two-year session for retiring lawmakers to make the announcement, but some lawmakers do it much earlier.

Veteran Rep. Dennis Ozment of Rosemount said he made up his mind to retire this year after spending time with family before the 2008 legislative session. He announced his retirement a short time later.

Ozment, currently the longest-serving House Republican, said he wanted to give constituents -- and possible candidates -- "as much warning as possible."

There is Capitol conjecture about other lawmakers' intentions.

Rep. Bernie Lieder, at 85 the oldest legislator, is weighing whether to return. Surveying the political landscape, the Crookston Democrat sees reasons to run again.

"The incentive to stay is it looks like we could have a veto-proof Legislature," he said of the Democrats gaining seats in the fall election.

However, he said there are factors that make retirement attractive, including the long distance he travels from his northwestern Minnesota home to St. Paul.

Republicans await Lieder's decision, viewing his seat as one they can gain if he steps down. They must wait a little longer; Lieder said he will not decide about re-election until after the session.


Predicting lawmaker retirements is a biennial political parlor game in St. Paul, but speculation about Peterson's future angered the Democrat from western Minnesota.

While Peterson said he is frustrated about reports saying he is leaving after this year, he refused to say he is running again.

"I'm not saying anything," Peterson said.

Only representatives' terms end this year. Senators, who serve four-year terms, were elected two years ago. While senators occasionally leave the Legislature in mid-term for personal reasons, no Senate retirements are expected this year.

Most lawmakers planning to retire decide before or at the end of a legislative session, some said. Veteran Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, said she knows of lawmakers who in the middle of a grueling session decided against re-election, only to later regret leaving.

"A time of stress isn't a good time to make major decisions," said Murphy, who intends to seek a 17th term this fall.

Political calculations, as much as personal reasons, can influence the timing of a retirement announcement. Some lawmakers intentionally keep private their impending retirement during a session to protect important legislation and their chances at serving on negotiating committees.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said she does not expect any more Democrats to step down this year.


"No one else has said anything, but you never know on the last night," she said.

Rep. Bud Heidgerken, a three-term Freeport Republican, was among a group of GOP lawmakers known as the Override Six for their votes to overturn Gov. Tim Pawlenty's transportation funding veto. He said he never decides whether to seek re-election until the end of session. He'll do the same this year, he said.

"I haven't really thought much about it," he said, grinning.

Speculation about Peterson's retirement is based in part on his work outside the Capitol. He is employed by an international renewable energy development firm, and the work requires travel around the country, he acknowledged.

Peterson said it's too early for lawmakers, Capitol observers and his constituents to know his plans.

"They may want to know, but get to know is a different thing," he said.

Many already are thinking about re-election. Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said he's running for another term.

"Unless I get called to be vice president," he joked.


Westrom, an Elbow Lake Republican, said he already has campaign plans made for the summer.

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