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Huntley has chaired the Health and Human Service Finance Committee in three different legislative sessions, including the present.

Duluth Rep. Tom Huntley to retire

Rep. Tom Huntley will not seek re-election in 2014. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher.)

Rep. Tom Huntley will not seek re-election in 2014. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher.)

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, will not seek re-election to the Legislature in 2014. Huntley’s announcement, which came on Tuesday morning, signals the end of one of the longest tenures in the modern Legislature.

Huntley is currently serving his 11th term in office, having first won election to the House in 1992. A former Biochemistry professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he rose to the top of the Democratic leadership team on health and human services. Huntley has chaired the Health and Human Service Finance Committee in three different Legislatures, including the current one, and has been a member of the House Ways and Means Committee for more than a decade.

Huntley, 75, explained he was leaving the House to focus on work relating to primary care and rural health care access.

“I feel the time is right for me to step aside at the state legislature and step into a new avenue of service where I can use my experience and knowledge to better implement health policy in Minnesota,” Huntley said.

Earlier this year, Huntley said that he had considered resigning his chairmanship after his caucus sought to cut $150 million from the health and human services budget, but ultimately decided to keep the gavel.

In his announcement, Huntley expressed pride in being an early supporter of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Among  the health care reform pieces Huntley worked on was an expansion of Medical Assistance, the state’s Medicaid program, which will leverage $5.4 billion in federal funds to offer subsidized health insurance to nearly 160,000 Minnesotans over the next four years.

“The practical impact of expanding MA for Minnesota is something we should all take great pride in as a state,” Huntley said.

Huntley’s retirement was met with appreciative statements from both House Speaker Paul Thissen and Majority Leader Erin Murphy, who called Huntley “a lion of the legislature,” and lauded his contributions.

“I will miss his leadership and guidance on health care issues,” Murphy said, “and our state will miss his relentless focus on making our health care system work better for Minnesotans.”

Thursday’s announcement leaves an opening in a reliably Democratic district: Huntley typically won re-election easily, including in 2012, when he collected 70 percent of the area vote.

The imminent vacancy soon attracted one declared DFL candidate. Minnesota-Duluth professor Jennifer Schultz announced that she would run for the seat Huntley had held for more than two decades, adding that she would seek endorsements from labor groups as well as the local DFL party unit.

Schultz teaches economics and health care management, and said she planned to use her expertise in the Legislature, should she win.

“I will continue the important work on health care reform that Rep. Tom Huntley championed during his tenure in the Legislature and will fight for continued funding for public education, health care, infrastructure, and social programs,” Schultz said.

Schultz’s campaign has the backing of former Senate District 7 DFL chair John Schwetman, who described her as “an expert on health care policy and a strong advocate for a fairer system that provides access to all Americans.” According to her press release, Schultz is a member of the Education Minnesota teachers union and a board member of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

Huntley is the second long-serving Democratic House member to declare that 2014 would be his last year of service. Last month, Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the House Public Safety and Finance and Policy Committee, announced that he would retire after the 2014 election. Like Huntley, Paymar represents a district that leans strongly toward the DFL, and it has since become a magnet for ambitious Democrats, seven of whom are already officially running for the office.

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