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Retiring legislators share parting thoughts

ST. PAUL -- There were many laughs and lots of tears shed on the House and Senate floors in the last few hours of the Minnesota legislative session and they had nothing to do with budget cuts.

Eight senators and 13 representatives, representing more than 10 percent of the Legislature's 201 members, announced they will not run for re-election this year.

In a tradition many lawmakers call one of the highlights of their legislative year, most of those retirees grabbed the microphone for one last speech from the floor.

Those retiring legislators dug into their souls, thanking families for their sacrifices and staff members for their work, recalling fond memories from their years of service and offering advice to colleagues who will return next year.

Some were serious.

"Next year when you convene in January, I won't be one of your Senate colleagues," said Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm. "I'll miss that. But I want you all to know that I consider every member with whom I have served ... to be my friend."

Others went for a laugh.

"My only advice to the folks around here is, toward the waning end of session, don't get your golf clubs out of the car and start hitting golf balls down through the park," said Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. "You'll get in trouble."

This year's retirees include several long-serving senators, both of Minnesota's Hmong lawmakers and a cadre of members running for higher office.

Democrat senators retiring include Murphy, Jim Vickerman of Tracy and Mee Moua of St. Paul, the state's first Hmong senator and one of the few in the country. Also leaving the Senate is Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud, who will leave to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Besides Frederickson, retiring Republican senators include Debbie Johnson of Blaine, Steve Dille of Dassel and Pat Pariseau of Farmington.

DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis won her party's nomination for governor and will run in an Aug. 10 primary, but not seek re-election regardless of her primary efforts.

Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano and former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert of Marshall competed for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Emmer won, but Seifert announced during his candidacy that he would not return to the Legislature.

GOP Rep. Dan Severson of Sauk Rapids will run for secretary of state. Other Republicans exiting the House include Rob Eastlund of Isanti, Laura Brod of New Prague, Paul Kohls of Victoria and Randy Demmer of Hayfield, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, also will leave the House to run for state Senate.

Democrat representatives leaving include Karla Bigham of Cottage Grove, Larry Haws of St. Cloud, Jeremy Kalin of North Branch and Cy Thao of St. Paul. Thao and Moua are the state's only Hmong legislators.

Years ago, Vickerman was attending the Minnesota State Fair with his wife when he swung by the Capitol and quickly decided it would be a great place to work. A quarter-century later, he told lawmakers, his instincts had been correct.

"This is a great place and a wonderful place to work," he said.

Vickerman described his work for veterans, including fighting for funding for Minnesota Veterans Homes in Luvurne and Fergus Falls, as "one of my greatest accomplishments."

The self-deprecating seven-termer regaled colleagues with stories and touched them with tears. He told of watching a Minnesota Twins game with some former Senate colleagues. As the Twins fell behind 13-0, he exclaimed with frustration to the person sitting next to him, "If I had that team I'd get rid of the whole bunch of them."

Only a few minutes later did he find out he was sitting next to the team's owner, Carl Pohlad.

He reminded fellow senators to stay in touch with the people who elect them.

"Don't forget your constituents, because they put you here," he said.

Tellijohn works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.