As a lawmaker, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, was behind one of the signature pieces of progressive legislation of the modern era, as well as a few of the Capitol’s most pointed lines.
Thursday, Winkler tried his hand at authoring something altogether different: a resignation letter.
The five-term Democrat announced that he would vacate his seat effective this summer for personal reasons. Winkler’s wife, Jenny, an attorney, has taken a position as vice president with the Rezidor Hotel Group in Brussels, Belgium, and the family will relocate there for the duration of her assignment.
That move also puts them closer to Jenny’s family, which lives in Sweden. The family had taken trips to Sweden at least annually in prior years.
Winkler said he had “worked hard to create a more responsible, more inclusive, and more equitable state that leaves nobody behind” during his nine-year tenure. He will retain his job as a lawyer for Biothera, a biotechnology and pharmaceutical company, and plans to split his time between Europe and Minnesota.
“While I am stepping down from the Legislature, I am not stepping away from the work of building a Minnesota that creates opportunity and prosperity for everyone,” Winkler wrote. “Our time abroad working for Minnesota companies will provide an even better understanding of how to increase economic vitality and equality for every Minnesotan.”
Reached just after Winkler’s announcement, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said Winkler is “incredibly smart, and witty, and doesn’t back down from tough fights.”
That wit, often aimed at Republican opposites, was in evidence during some of Winkler’s final hours on the House floor, except for the upcoming special session. On Monday evening, Winkler grilled Republicans, including House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, over the state government finance bill’s allowance of bond sales for the new Senate office building.
Peppin avoided answering directly, instead telling Winkler that time was running out on the duration of the legislative term and members should concern themselves with the “business of the state,” rather than wasting time.
“You’re already freefalling toward the concrete, on getting this thing done on time,” Winkler replied, adding later that Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk would be “eternally grateful” for Republican support of the Senate building.
Though a valued lieutenant in his own caucus, Winkler has his own history of clashing with fellow Democrats in the upper chamber. Beginning in 2013, Winkler carried a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to upwards of $9 an hour, but found Senate Democrats unwilling. When that session ended without a minimum wage bill, Winkler accused Bakk of taking it off the table to secure Republican votes on a bonding bill.
Winkler picked up that work the following session, eventually passing a bill to raise the state minimum to $9.50 an hour starting in the summer of 2016, with an automatic inflator provision to raise the wage in subsequent years.
On other uphill battles, Winkler was less successful. He consistently pushed for ethics and campaign reform laws, including increased disclosure requirements for legislators and more transparent accounting of outside spending groups on advocacy campaigns; both arguments failed to gain favor inside the Capitol.
The announcement could inspire a candidate scramble from liberals in that inner-ring suburban district, and one was nearly ready to declare later Thursday afternoon. First out of the gate was Peggy Flanagan, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota and a former Minneapolis School Board member, who issued a press release Wednesday morning to announce her candidacy. Flanagan’s release highlighted that background and also mentioned her experience working with Winkler on the minimum wage and paid sick leave for employees.
Gov. Mark Dayton will have five days after Winkler’s official resignation date to call a special election, which would then take place within the following 35 days.