Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, is making a mid-term, mid-career departure from the Legislature this year. The nine-term representative announced her resignation from the House on Nov. 16 and said Thursday she’ll likely be gone around Dec. 15 for a new job at lobbying firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP.
Lenczewski, 55, is the second legislator to announce her retirement in November, and she’ll be the second to leave early in the year’s last quarter. She told Capitol Report she is backing Bloomington City Council Member Andrew Carlson in the special-election race for her District 50B seat.
Lenczewski talked to Capitol Report Thursday about her big career move. Her comments are edited for length and continuity:
On why she’s leaving
I have been a longtime legislator. I started so young that I never felt my whole breadth and depth of my career would be [as] an elected official.
Four kids — off to college and law school. It’s the right time for my family. It’s time for a new voice to come out of Bloomington with new ideas.
I achieved my objective as a legislator. Not everyone chairs the committee they’ve dreamed to chair and I got to do that multiple times.
Three Republican speakers allowed me to be a tax conferee and a tax [committee] lead, which is as high as you can go in the minority. The only two speakers I had that were Democrats both made me the chair.
I loved being a legislator. People don’t stay in the legislature for nine terms if they’re not satisfied with what the taxpayers are willing to pay them. I certainly was, and that’s not part of my calculation. I’ve been in a fortunate situation with my spouse. I was able to do that and raise my four children.
On leaving mid-term[Leaving at the end of a term] would be ideal [but] opportunities come up when they do. I had been thinking about this for a while. I kept coming back to still being at the Capitol at least part of my job, because I like the policy and the politics and the mysterious black box of how things get done at the Capitol. Many of the opportunities I was looking at took you away from that arena into the quiet walls of running a foundation or association, or working in a finance department or doing taxes for a corporation.
On the new job
I was thinking about it for a while, but I had a very short time of looking. Most of my colleagues have [found] it’s very difficult for them to go out and look without the world knowing they’re doing that. Or they do it confidentially, and that’s how I did it.
It was a good fit for me. It’s one of the premier law firms in Minnesota in government relations — both state and federal, and they have a big interest in local units of government. I cut my teeth on being a city council member. I’ll be partially lobbying, partially doing other things. I’m not completely sure what exactly until I start but I’m excited about it.
On concerns about legislators becoming lobbyists
That’s understandable. If the Legislature would pass a law, which has never happened, and a governor would sign it, that would say you can’t lobby for one or two years, I would follow the law.
Many former House members have gone on to be lobbyists: Tom Emmer, Jim Abeler, Chris DeLaForest — there’s dozens and dozens of them.
We all have to make a decision — should I go do something different for six months or a year until it’s OK to do something else? The House has a rule [against lobbying], but it only applies if you’re a member of the House.
The most influential thing you can do is be a legislator. If I really wanted to parlay my influence at the Capitol, I wouldn’t be leaving. That’s the most powerful thing you can do — be one of those people who pushes that button.
On the joy of legislating
First, having your own hometown trust you to be their representative. Then to be with all these incredible Republicans and Democrats, who as much as we fight, most everyone’s trying to do the right thing. It’s a group of geniuses and class clowns and extroverts. It’s a wild group. That’s fun. I like a high-energy, fast-paced arena.
I love the tax policy. I love the debate. I like the intrigue and how you really pass a bill, and how you really negotiate with the Senate. Compromising and trying to make things work for multiple people at once—I really like that stuff.
On what she’s proud of
I’m most proud of things I did for my community. A lot of what I did for Bloomington was stop bad ideas from happening, and a lot took 10 years, like restoring the old Cedar Avenue Bridge in the Minnesota River Valley.
Statewide, my biggest achievement is in being a part of creating very serious tax policy — in the minority, working in the margins, or being chair, the decision maker. Those bills have thousands of provisions, big and small, that affect every Minnesotan. The tax area has the biggest spreadsheet in the whole place. It’s got the whole state budget. The tax committee funds every other committee. It’s like a big chess board.
The work of the Legislature frequently falls to those who understand that rather than shutting things down, you have to compromise — help both Republicans and Democrats get a piece of what they want and declare victory but you do not have to do the things you’re most offended by.
Who is a problem-solver, deep down? I always felt that I was in that group, There’s a group of legislators in all parties, in all caucuses who are adept at figuring out how to get a deal done. There’s something in the middle for everyone if people are open for it.
On whom she’ll miss
It’s really almost everyone. I like competition. And I like teams. So being on a team and trying to win, that’s fun for me. The caucus is sort of the team you’re on. There’s all kinds of Republicans and Democrats that I’ll miss terribly. Both parties have these committed, passionate staff people. And then the nonpartisan research staff. They’re just geniuses who make all us legislators seem smarter than we are.
On Republican mentors[Former Rep.] Ron Abrams was probably my biggest mentor. He was a very fair chair, driven by trying to do good policy. I had a similar experience on the Bloomington City Council. I was the only Democrat. My mayor was Coral Houle. She was a moderate Republican, like Abrams. I was able to watch these different people be leaders. They were respectful, diligent, studied and did their work and didn’t make partisan speeches about how the other side was terrible.
On running again
My goal in life was to be the tax chair someday and I did that. I’m looking forward to not running for office again. We run every other year. We put up lawn signs every other year. We’re raising money all the time. It gets a little grueling on a family. It’s kind of a grueling lifestyle.
On the Senate and the House
The House has the pulse of the people. We tend to pick up the political waves much faster than the Senate. You could say we’re a much more impulsive group. We’re also a much more in-tune group. There’s a joke that if you go from the House to the Senate, you pick up twice the territory and get half the calls.
When I started, it didn’t feel that partisan to me. Then it just got a lot more partisan. And I think we’ve finally turned that around. When [current Minority Leader Paul] Thissen became speaker, I watched him. I think that hyper partisan stuff that was happening for a while has calmed down again — probably because the public started telling us, we don’t like that. So I actually think it’s getting better again.