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Gerlach retires from Senate, will seek seat on county board

Chris Gerlach

Chris Gerlach thought he was done with politics. Turned out he was wrong.

Earlier this year, citing a desire to spend more time with his family and his business, Gerlach announced his retirement from the Minnesota Legislature after 14 years as a Representative and a Senator.

"It's become a full-time job," he said last week. "It's extraordinarily difficult with a family and a business. Fourteen years is a long time, so it was time to pass that on to somebody else."

That was supposed to be the end of it. Good bye politics, hello family life. But then things changed. Longtime Dakota County Commissioner Will Branning announced that he did not plan to seek another term. Gerlach saw an opportunity and, well, a local office seemed a little less stressful. A little more compatible with what he was looking for in his life.

Late last week, Gerlach announced he is a candidate for Branning's seat. The recently redefined district he hopes to represent includes part of Rosemount's western edge. Apple Valley mayor Mary Hamann-Roland has also announced plans to run for the seat.

"The reason I'm leaving the legislature is the demands and the intensity," Gerlach said. "County commissioner is a local office. It's not as demanding, yet I have a lot of relationships. I know the legislators. A lot of what impacts the county budget flows through the state. Having those relationships and knowing who's pulling those levers is a benefit."

Gerlach's decision to run extends at least through November a political career he said began with a pair of failures. He was a computer science major at St. Thomas before he flunked out of the program. Unable to pass calculus, he said, he turned to political science and discovered a new passion. He joined a Republican organization on campus and got an internship with former Senator Rudy Boschwitz.

After five years in the Air Force, Gerlach resumed working on local campaigns. He applied for a job at the capitol, but he never got an interview. When Rep. Eileen Tompkins, on whose campaign Gerlach had worked, announced her retirement, Gerlach saw a different path to his political future. He won his first House seat in 1998 and served there until 2004, when Senator Dave Knutson was appointed judge. Gerlach won a special election that year, beating Hamann-Roland, and has served in the Senate ever since.

There have been good times and bad in Gerlach's 14 years at the capitol. He served with three governors, and when Republicans regained the majority in the Senate for the first time in 38 years he got to take on some new leadership roles. He pointed to a 2010 election reform bill, which he worked on as a minority member, as a particular highlight.

He said things have gotten harder lately, though.

"The last two years have been very difficult," he said. "The more difficult it is, the harder you work for less accomplishment. As a result, you make sacrifices to do the job. You tell yourself it's worth it.... After a while you run out of steam on that."

Now, Gerlach hopes a new kind of race will help him pick up steam again.