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Ritchie looks toward last several months as Minnesota's secretary of state

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie speaks at the Senate District 22 DFL meeting Wednesday night in Fulda.

FULDA -- Mark Ritchie has a found a deep love for books on tape.

"I learned early about books on tape," the Minnesota Secretary of State said following Wednesday night's Senate District 22 DFL meeting in Fulda's American Legion hall. "You can do 'Moby Dick' on a big trip.

"In fact, one of the things I've been very self-conscious about is trying to be home at night, every night," Ritchie continued. "Occasionally, if you're up in Hallock and you're coming back through Fargo, you can have a blizzard and not make it. Generally speaking, it's a big state and often I'm at township meetings and dairy meetings and you're late at night and cake's not until the end, then we head home. One aspect of the job is trying to have a pace so that you are being safe. I have a speech tomorrow morning at 7:30 to a business roundtable, so I will pace myself to do that."

Ritchie is now hoping to spend a little less time in the car and more time with his family. He recently announced he will not seek re-election when his term expires in 2014.

"We spend a lot of time trying to make sure we've gone camping in all of our state," Ritchie said. "I was just reminded two years ago we were down at the Petroglyphs and Blue Mounds and in Pipestone because we were getting ready for the 1862 Minnesota Dakota War and trying to get a sense of all the different pieces of that.

"I'm anxious to get back into our camping routine and our hiking routine. We have a book that's marked, but there's a lot of spaces we haven't done yet. I haven't thought about it a lot yet, but I feel blessed that I'm in good health and I have a lot more to do."

That includes catching up on his reading about the Civil War.

"It's funny -- there is a thing you can join called Audible," Ritchie explained. "Some books are free and some books have a cost. You get a little credit every month. Then, you can have it on five machines. My wife listens to different things, I listen to different things. Especially getting a lot of Civil War reading done this year, you can go through a whole battle on the trip up to the grocery store and home."

While his announcement to not seek re-election may have come as a surprise to some, Ritchie said those close to him understand his priorities.

"I think that people who know how much I put family and those things in my personal life as a priority weren't so shocked," he said. "I know there is a pattern sometimes where people run for office until they die.

"For me, I was never involved in electoral politics before. I had been active in food and agriculture and farming issues. I've been able to feel very blessed by two terms. I also am very serious about the need to make room for young leaders in my community and my church and church board, in elected office, in communities, in our farming and business world. There's another part of me that wants to make sure I'm acting consistent with my own feelings, my own rhetoric and my own belief."

As candidates line up to become the next Secretary of State, Ritchie said it's a wide open field.

"My concern is that the people who put themselves forward should be very high quality and really committed to the office itself," he said. "Sometimes people can have ambitions and think, 'Oh, the Secretary of State's office, I can stand on that to get someplace else.' I want there to be a real appreciation of honoring the office. So far, it feels like it has that feeling, but we're early on in the process."

Ritchie's time in office will be forever known by the recounts in 2008 and 2010.

"We were under great media and press coverage and scrutiny and with the recounts, you put an electron microscope on your election system," he said. "When you say, 'Wow, we have a great transportation system, but we had a bridge go down. We've got a great education system, but things could be better. We have a great election system, let's take a good look at this.' What we found was a strong affirmation that this is the most honest and rare system, and second, we also saw how having our paper ballot in the way that we do things really gave us the raw materials for the whole public to be able to watch and feel some confidence."

However, the recounts allowed some changes to be made.

"We have busy lives -- we are out traveling the world or planet," Ritchie said. "We had systems of absentee voting going back to the Civil War, and we were able to use the momentum that came out of the big exposure to move the legislature to update some of our laws.

"One element of election laws is that all the members of the legislature got elected under the current laws, so they think the laws are just fine," Ritchie went on. "Any proposals to change them has a lot of scrutiny. The recounts vote gave us national exposure, and a lot of people came to study our system. ... It also affirmed our belief. It also showed us things we could do better and gave us political momentum to make some of those changes. Sometimes you need an umph to make those changes, especially with election law."

As far as his legacy goes, Ritchie said he hasn't thought about it much.

"There's a legacy for me personally that we have brought our business services to be the top of the nation," he said. "It's not such a public thing -- some people really understand, it and for some people it's not really in their daily life. But that feels really great.

"The second thing is keeping Minnesota No. 1. It's an important legacy that I inherited and I'm able to hand that on."

Being the top state in voter turnout was a big part of Ritchie's Wednesday night address to the Senate District 22 crowd. So, too, was the topic of his final 19 months in office.

"The top priority at the moment is finishing the digitizing of our entire business services system," he said. "The reason why that's important in a broader context -- for people who live near our office, they can kind of come in and do business if they need to right there. If you live in Fulda or Worthington or Hallock or Duluth or Winona, you need to have 24/7 digital access on the Internet to have the same opportunities for starting your business or getting a filing or whatever it is as everybody else. We are seven years into that, and it will take us basically the full eight years, but that will be a giant thing."

Ritchie also looks forward to enacting the laws the state legislature passed, many of which include a technology component. As someone who trained to be a history teacher, Ritchie also hopes to leave a lasting legacy by sharing historical moments.

"I serve as the chair of a number of task forces, one of which is the Civil War 150th commemoration, and of course, this is Gettysburg, it's kind of a big year," he said. "There are things that I want to do in the next 19 months. I brought the Declaration of Independence to Minnesota for a historical exhibit. We brought the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and I would like to find a way to make that a more permanent part of our state's history and heritage here.

"There are some things like that I want to get done to make sure they are in good shape -- finish them up and make sure the whole operation is in good shape for the next person who comes in," he added.