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Still making a pitch for region, state

Editor’s note: This occasional series tracks former political figures well-known to Capitol Report readers, catching up with what these politicos have done since leaving office, or their formerly prominent roles, and what they might plan to do next.


Joe Radinovich,
former DFL representative, House District 10B

The family history of the Radinoviches on the Iron Range traces a similar line to that of the region itself. More than a century ago, Joe Radinovich’s great-grandfather worked as a miner on the Mesabi range after immigrating to the north country from Europe. The Radinoviches moved south, to Cuyuna range country, and eventually settled in Crosby.

By the time Joe was born in 1986, the last of the iron ore from Cuyuna was long gone, and the area has spent much of the intervening time trying to hit paydirt on something else.

“Since that time, we’ve really wrestled with what our identity is,” Radinovich said. “People have been through a lot of changes, some of them painful changes.”

Navigating those changes is now a direct responsibility for Radinovich, an assistant commissioner with the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB). Radinovich received that post after an election loss in 2014, bringing an abrupt — though not necessarily permanent — end to a promising legislative career after just one term in office.

Radinovich joined the IRRRB at the same time as Commissioner Mark Phillips, formerly head of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and, like Phillips, his appointment was backed by Gov. Mark Dayton. The new role has taken Radinovich all over the vast expanse of the IRRRB’s geographic purview, and also regularly returned him to St. Paul. There, Radinovich lobbied former colleagues — including Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, who ousted Radinovich last year — for economic development packages targeting the Iron Range.

“I did have to work with my opponent, who is an elected member of the [IRRRB],” Radinovich said. “We get along well.”

Economic priorities for the area include state support for value-added mining, but also a number of initiatives that focus on what’s above ground in that region. Specifically, in the short-term, that means trying to lure biochemical companies to locate there to produce chemicals and sugars from biomass. On a broader scope, IRRRB is looking at livability topics, like increased broadband Internet access and redevelopment of area downtowns, with old buildings badly in need of updating.

“If we expand our business energy retrofitting program, and make those buildings more energy-efficient, that brings down their bottom line every month,” Radinovich said.

This summer was the first in three years that allowed a bit of freedom for Radinovich, an avid mountain biker — “I’ve got a brand-new Trek Fuel,” he said, naming his make and model of choice — and music lover.

“I went to the Eaux Claires Music Festival,” Radinovich said. “When I was in the House, or on the campaign, I couldn’t have left for a weekend. It’s nice to get a breather after three years.”

That said, Radinovich said he “almost certainly” will run for office again someday, though he has yet to decide on when, or what office he would seek. Radinovich said he does enjoy campaigning and meeting directly with people, and that he’s already looking forward to “all the joy and heartbreak that [running for office] brings.”

Mark Ritchie,
former Minnesota secretary of state

“This is the kind of thing that creates buzz,” Mark Ritchie, CEO of Expo 2023, said in July at a meeting of the Minneapolis City Council Committee of the Whole. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

“This is the kind of thing that creates buzz,” Mark Ritchie, CEO of Expo 2023, said in July at a meeting of the Minneapolis City Council Committee of the Whole. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

It sounds like a romantic getaway for Mark Ritchie and his wife, Nancy, or a chance for the former Minnesota politician to get in some world-class dining and sightseeing.

But Ritchie’s late-summer trip to Milan, Italy, had at least a couple elements that few people think to take with them when they travel abroad: namely, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen.

That’s because Ritchie’s trip to Milan, completed in the last week of August, was a working excursion, part of his duties as leader on Minnesota’s bid to host the 2023 World’s Fair. Italy’s hosting of the event — with its enviable theme of food throughout the world — gave Ritchie and other boosters a chance to get insight into what makes a world exposition succeed or fail.

Some of the biggest lessons Ritchie learned there came through the smallest details: There was rarely a wait to enter the fair’s security gates and, even more surprising, no lines outside the women’s restrooms.

“They drew on expertise with hosting the Winter Olympics in Turin and other events, to imagine all the ways the experience could be most positive for visitors,” said Ritchie, who came back with a number of related insights that he plans to incorporate into Minnesota’s bid, due next May.

Ritchie pulled double-duty during the trip, as he also sought to connect Minnesota’s efforts toward sustainable food systems to the Italian expo’s current theme. The former secretary of state was awarded an endowed chair by the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), and has devoted one day a week there out of an already busy schedule.

The academic post marked something of a reunion with an old issue for Ritchie, who spent two decades as head of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy before running for office in 2006. After close to 10 years focused on election law and business filings, Ritchie said he experienced a “Rip Van Winkle effect,” and has enjoyed catching up on new advancements in agriculture.

Ritchie’s other free time, what little of it there is, has been spent on — actual, non-working — vacation and travel with his wife, and he has taken an active role with the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota Military History Association.

As for his own history, Ritchie suggested the passage of time would reflect well on his efforts as secretary of state, where he was frequently criticized for perceived overstepping of his authority. (Among other controversies, Ritchie launched an online voter registration system, which was later halted until it could be enacted legislatively.)

“It would be a mischaracterization to say I took a side, except, maybe, taking the side of democracy,” he said. “And some people have been attacking our democracy.”

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