High Legislative Turnover in 2016: What are the Causes?

With every seat in the Minnesota legislature up for grabs in the 2016 elections, at least 17 individuals who started the 2015 legislative session will not be involved in the reelection process. 5 of those legislators are members of the Republican Party, while the other 12 are members of the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party  With the large turnover of legislators going into the 2016 election, it begs the question, why are so many individuals leaving the legislature?

Some lawmakers have said they are leaving due to pay. The  Minnesota State Legislature Frequently Asked Questions Page conveys that legislators on both sides of the political aisle make a $31,140 base salary, and a per diem is given to help fund living expenses while the legislature is in session. Minnesota legislators are considered “citizen legislators” which means that most have a professional career outside of working for the legislature.

According to National Conference of State Legislatures (NSCL), the state of Minnesota has a “hybrid” legislature. This means that Minnesota legislators spend roughly two-thirds of their time acting as full time legislators.  23 other states are characterized as “hybrid” legislatures.  The NCSL notes that the salary for legislators in “hybrid” legislatures is usually not enough to support them, requiring them to acquire other work. Given that the pay is low for legislators compared to the private sector, individuals are likely leaving the legislature because they can make much more money when they focus on their professional career.  

Of the legislators leaving the legislature, nearly all have or had experience in professions that earn well over the legislative salary.  Occupations held by the retiring legislators include but are not limited to: attorney, communications specialist, small business owner, nurse, and non-profit management. Stable hours and more financial incentive is likely plenty of reason to leave the legislature in favor of private sector work.

Many lawmakers leave the legislature but don’t leave politics, taking positions at lobbying and consulting firms that allow them to exert influence without taking public scrutiny. For example, according to the Star Tribune, State Representative Ann Lenczewski is leaving her job as a legislator to work for the powerful lobbying group, Lockridge Grindal Nauen. Lockridge Grindal Nauen operates in both the Midwest and Washington DC, and focuses on intellectual property, intellectual property law, and the environment among other issues.

2014 GOP Gubernatorial candidate and former speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Kurt Zellers is another example of an influential legislator that still is involved in politics but no longer casting votes. Zellers now operates MZA+CO, a consulting firm along with  former Governor Pawlenty Spokesperson Brian McClung and former Deputy Commissioner of Education Chas Anderson. Individuals leaving elected office but staying involved in politics is sometimes termed “the revolving door.” To learn about other legislators turned lobbyists, check out the Pioneer Press’s database.

It is not uncommon for lawmakers to leave the legislature in favor of other elected positions. Representative Joe Atkins will not seek re-election, and is instead running for Dakota County Commissioner, which will provide better pay and more stable hours, reports Lillie News.  Several House members are choosing to run for State Senate in 2016 as well.

Another reason that legislators are  likely to leave their position is the toll it can take on one’s family. The odd hours, frequent travel, and the stress that comes with being a politician is often cited as a reason for leaving. Many  leave the legislature to have increased time to spend with their family. Senator Bev Scalze and Senator Branden Petersen both listed time with family as one of the reasons they are leaving.

With the high turnover in the state legislature, races for seats in both the House of Representatives and Senate will tighten. 6 DFL Representatives not seeking re-election will allow Republicans the opportunity to pick up seats.  On the contrary, 5 GOP senators not seeking re-election presents the possibility of a the DFL picking up crucial seats.  To stay up to date on the 2016 state legislature elections, please subscribe.

List of legislators who were will not be seek re-election in 2017:

  1.   Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington (special election to     replace her.)
  2.   Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing
  3.   Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake (died in August 2015)
  4.   Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights
  5.   Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester.
  6.   Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley (resigned, special election to replace him).)
  7.   Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights.
  8.   Sen. Branden Peterson, R-Andover (resigned in October 2015)
  9.   Sen. Dave Brown, R-Becker
  10.   Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville
  11.   Sen. Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul
  12.   Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud
  13.   Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen
  14.   Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato.
  15.   Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport
  16.   Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth
  17.   Sen. Sen. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada.