Stump to retire after lengthy career
ST. PAUL -- Getting involved in politics is one way to make enemies.But it would be a tall order to find anyone with anything nasty to say about LeRoy Stumpf, a Minnesota state senator who will retire this year after roughly 36 years in public of...
ST. PAUL - Getting involved in politics is one way to make enemies.
But it would be a tall order to find anyone with anything nasty to say about LeRoy Stumpf, a Minnesota state senator who will retire this year after roughly 36 years in public office. Colleagues said they’ll miss his congenial demeanor and aversion to partisan politics, which seems to be an increasingly rare trait among those seeking public office.
“Some say he’s too nice,” said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a fellow Democrat whose congressional district overlaps Stumpf’s.
But his demeanor hasn’t prevented Stumpf from being an effective legislator or from holding prominent posts, colleagues said. And those who know him said he’s a strong voice for his district, which covers Minnesota’s most northwestern counties.
Stumpf’s steady hand may be an asset again this year in his role as chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, which handles requests for public infrastructure projects outlined in the bonding bill. Ultimately, that bill will require the support of a supermajority of lawmakers to pass, and Republican leadership has already said they’d like to see Gov. Mark Dayton’s $1.4 billion proposal cut in half.
His counterpart on the Capital Investment Committee, Rochester Republican Sen. David Senjem, expects disagreements on the bonding bill, but not the bitter kind.
“I think it’s easy for all of us to talk to LeRoy,” he said. “When there’s disagreements, I don’t think he holds a grudge.”
Voting his district
Stumpf’s political career is noteworthy not just for its longevity - he’s currently the sixth-longest serving senator in Minnesota history - but also for the fact that he was hesitant to run for the Legislature in the first place.
Stumpf went to the St. Paul Seminary, was ordained a deacon and worked at a mission in Central America before returning to work at the St. Paul Cathedral. After leaving that line of work he met his wife, Carol, and later moved to a farm near Plummer.
“We were raising cattle at that time, and I think we had 130 cows,” Stumpf said. “How do you maintain your current occupation and then leave there and go some place?”
They eventually sold the cows and opted to grow grains and hay. With the encouragement of local party activists, Stumpf was elected to the state House in 1980 - his first public office - and then to the Senate in 1982, winning re-election nine times.
That includes his most recent election in 2012, when his district sided with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Moreover, both of the state House seats in his district are represented by Republicans.
But that partisan divide is negated by Stumpf’s tendency to side with the wishes of his constituents, said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. Senjem said he’s a “middle of the road, politically.”
“He has few partisan bones in him,” Bakk said. “He’s always tried to vote his district. That is something that I have great respect for.”
That attitude appears to have endeared him to voters. But even Stumpf acknowledges he didn’t initially plan on spending more than three decades in public office.
A number of floods in his district have kept him occupied over the years, as did the subsequent recoveries. That includes the 1997 Red River flood and another in Roseau in 2002.
Roseau Mayor Jeff Pelowski recalls Stumpf riding in his pickup during the flood, the passenger side headlight going underwater at one point.
“He was there from day one, and he was just a fixture in Roseau for as long as he needed to be,” Pelowski said. Stumpf was among the dignitaries at the dedication of Roseau’s flood risk management project in August.
Stumpf previously served as chairman of the Senate Education Policy and Finance Committee as well as the Higher Education Finance Committee. In the press release announcing his retirement, he pointed to educational initiatives as noteworthy accomplishments of his career.
“That is something I feel very proud of,” Stumpf said in February, when he announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.
One symbol of the continuing partisan divide in politics is the new office building in which Stumpf works. Bordered by windows on two sides, his corner office provides an impressive view of the Capitol grounds and the construction underway next door.
But the new Senate office building was a source of contention in recent years between Democrats and Republicans, the latter party arguing it was unnecessary. And even today, Republican senators aren’t occupying that building until later this year, but Senate Minority Leader David Hann stressed to Minnesota Public Radio News that he wasn’t boycotting it.
For his part, Stumpf said he would like to see a reversal in the polarization in politics, something he said has to do with increasingly rigid opinions about public policy.
“And I think life isn’t like that. You have to have flexibility,” he said.