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Retiring lawmakers honored, frustrated

ST. PAUL - Most were known, some were expected and one came as a surprise.

Those were lawmakers' reactions to colleagues' retirement announcements that came early Sunday, after the 2008 Legislature drew to a close. Twelve Minnesota House members formally announced they will not run for re-election this fall.

Eight Republicans and four Democrats bid goodbye, and lawmakers expect more retirements yet this election year. There were no announced Senate retirements at the end of the session; senators have two years remaining in their terms.

The House retirees are a mix of Capitol veterans and newcomers. They included Democratic Reps. Aaron Peterson of Appleton and Frank Moe of Bemidji along with GOP Reps. Dennis Ozment of Rosemount and Bud Heidgerken of Freeport.

They spoke of the privilege of being in elected office, but also of the struggles that come with serving.

"This is an incredible place to work and without a doubt this is by far professionally the greatest thing I've ever done," Moe said.

And even as legislative leaders touted the bipartisan-crafted session-ending deal, outgoing lawmakers alluded to the growing presence of political polarization at the Capitol.

The only unexpected departure was that of Heidgerken, who served three two-year terms. The Freeport Republican previously had run for office as a Democrat and was known to work with members of both major parties.

"One of the things I did not enjoy about being here is the partisanship," he said.

Heidgerken was a member of the so-called Override Six, a half-dozen House Republicans who helped override a transportation funding bill veto.

Heidgerken apologized to fellow GOP lawmakers for not always sticking with them on votes, but said his priority was his conscience, constituents and, then, his political caucus.

"That's just the nature of the beast," he said.

Heidgerken said while he enjoyed serving in the House, he has family to see, a cafe to run and softball games to play.

"It's time to move on," he said.

Peterson told members he and his relatives have served at the Capitol for 28 years. He succeeded his father, Doug Peterson.

"That's some sort of state record," the younger Peterson said. "Like it or not, we're afflicted with service."

Peterson said in the 1990s he traveled through nine states and Washington, D.C. "and always knew that western Minnesota was home."

Peterson is stepping down in part because of his work for a renewable energy company. Peterson spent much of his six years in the House working on energy issues. It became easier to pass energy legislation during the past two years, he said, when Democrats held a strong majority.

"We just got to do whatever we wanted," he said to House energy leader Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson. "Sorry, you got the votes, you got the votes. That was really great."

"Out of that came a lot of nation-leading (energy) votes," Peterson said.

Peterson, who recently married, said serving was an honor, but it was time to move on.

"I'm going to go, and I'll see you down the road," he told colleagues.

Ozment, the longest-serving House Republican, had parting advice for his colleagues. He warned against the prevalence of harsh partisanship and of lawmakers who do not socialize. The public sees the Legislature as a room full of enemies, he said.

"We're all on the same team because we're all here for Minnesota," Ozment told representatives. "We need to get respect, friendship to help us build tolerance for the difference of opinions."

A former firefighter, Ozment said he has been campaigning for the Legislature for 28 years, and looked fondly on his time in the House.

"I'm still having fun," Ozment said. "I still believe I make a difference."

The veteran lawmaker urged the many new House members to learn how the legislative system works.

"This place is fun. It is the best learning experience you could ever ask for," Ozment said.

Two terms were enough for Moe, who said it was a struggle to leave his wife every week to travel from his home in Bemidji to St. Paul

"That sucks. That's brutal," he said of leaving home.

It was even more difficult in the winter months, Moe said, when there was snow on the ground and his sled dogs were running.

"That's it," he said. "I can't do that anymore."

Moe called his four years in the House the best professional thing he ever has done.

"I'm really moved to be part of this institution," said an emotional Moe.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who called on the retiring lawmakers, held back tears during the ceremonial meeting held after the Legislature completed its work for the year.

But there was humor in the speeches as well.

"I will think of all of you as you're out campaigning," outgoing Rep. Chris DeLaForest of Andover joked.