Retirement of budding GOP stars increases legislative exodus to 17
The door marked “exit” at the Minnesota state Capitol will get a workout at the end of the 2010 session, with 17 legislators (so far) announcing that they’re not seeking re-election in the fall.
The two latest to announce their retirements from the Legislature are Rep. Laura Brod of New Prague and Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria — both Republicans and both prominent among the party’s young Turks (Kohls, 36, was a co-chair of the state Republican convention last weekend and Brod, 38, was reportedly a sought-after lieutenant governor candidate earlier this year after deciding against running for governor herself last summer for unspecified health reasons). Their departures, in a presidential midterm election year that figures to skew toward their party, are the most surprising retirements to date.
“I didn’t ask anyone [in the party] for permission,” Kohls said this week, asked whether he had consulted with party officials before deciding to accept a job in the legal department of Mankato-based AgStar Financial Services. “But after I made the announcement, I did have people ask me to reconsider.”
Kohls, an attorney, said he’d had no intention to retire after this session. “I was planning to run again, and I was hoping I could run again,” he said — and, in fact, District 34A Republicans endorsed him earlier this spring to run for another term. “But I was looking for employment that would accommodate my continuing to serve, and this opportunity came along.
“It was made very clear to me as I talked to [AgStar] that it was a 12-months-a-year commitment. It wasn’t going to work with my continued service in the Legislature. I made the decision that I was OK with that, and it’s good. I’m very excited to start this new chapter in my life.”
In announcing their departures, neither Kohls nor Brod closed the door on future elective office. “I know better than to say never,” Kohls said, and Brod — though she didn’t return calls seeking comment after her announcement late Tuesday that she was leaving the Legislature — said this in her e-mailed statement:
“While I will not be running for public office this fall, I have every intention of being involved in public policy in the future. There are many issues [on] which Democrats, Republicans and Independents can agree … and many that have great differences, all of which require a conversation to move our nation forward.
“I hope to be a part of that conversation in some way.”
Brod’s statement didn’t say what she plans to do after she leaves the House.
In addition to Kohls and Brod, nine other House members and six members of the Senate will be leaving after the 2010 legislative session. Seven of the 17 retirees are younger than 45; 10 are Republicans and seven are DFLers.
Five of those leaving the House and one who isn’t seeking re-election to the Senate are departing because of their aspirations to higher office.
Sen. Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud, who turns 49 in July, earned the DFL’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in November, and won’t run again for the state Senate.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, 42, earned the DFL’s nomination to run for governor, and Rep. Marty Seifert, 38, a former House minority leader, lasted two ballots in last weekend’s Republican state convention in Minneapolis before conceding the gubernatorial endorsement to fellow House member Tom Emmer of Delano. Both Kelliher and Seifert announced long before their respective state conventions that they wouldn’t run for re-election, no matter what happened when their parties gathered to choose endorsees for governor.
Rep. Randy Demmer, R-Hayfield, 53, is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in November. Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, who will be 56 in August, is the Republicans’ endorsed candidate to challenge DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie this year, and Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, who turns 60 in November, is seeking the seat being vacated by 79-year-old Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, who is calling it quits after seven terms in the Senate.
Besides Vickerman, three others leaving the Senate are 65 or older: Republican Steve Dille of Dassel, 65, won’t seek a fifth term; Dennis Frederickson, a Republican from New Ulm, will be 71 in July and is completing his ninth term; and Republican Pat Pariseau of Farmington, a seven-term senator, turns 74 on Aug. 10, Minnesota’s new primary day.
The other retirees in the House are Rob Eastlund, R-Isanti, who turns 61 in June; Cy Thao, DFL-St. Paul, 38; Jeremy Kalin, DFL-North Branch, 35; and the baby of the bunch, Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, 31, who decided not to seek a third term so she could go to law school or graduate school.
“When you do this for six months of the year, you literally have to leave your job for six months,” said Bigham, who works as a paralegal when she’s not legislating in St. Paul. “I’m very thankful and appreciative that I have a job that’s flexible.
“You do see people who do both of their jobs while they’re up here. It’s a commitment, but also an honor to be a public servant.”
Minnesota’s legislators earn $31,140 a year, plus per diems of $96 (for senators) or $77 (for House members) during the session. That amount ranks Minnesota squarely in the middle of the states when it comes to legislative compensation; according to statistics kept by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the highest-paid legislators are members of the California Assembly, who earn $95,291 a year, plus a $173 per diem. Michigan legislators come in second at $79,650 a year, plus a $12,000 yearly expense allowance.
By contrast, those who serve in the New Mexico Legislature earn only a $159 per diem, and in New Hampshire, legislators are paid just $200 for a two-year term, with no per diems.
Kohls believes that it’s becoming a greater challenge to maintain a citizen Legislature, a concept in which he declares himself a “firm believer.”
“We’re getting to the point where the time commitment associated with serving in the Legislature is getting more and more difficult to manage,” he said. “It’s hard to accommodate another job in terms of responsibility and a financially meaningful occupation in addition to being here in St. Paul.
“Are we marching down a path made up of people who are independently wealthy, retired or public employees? I don’t think that’s terribly representative of Minnesota, which is what our founding fathers wanted our citizen Legislature to be.”