Retirements, end of session chaos, could add up to another big turnover in House this fall

Nineteen state representatives bid adieu to their colleagues on the House floor Monday.

Retiring Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, well-known among House colleagues for his sense of humor, took off his jacket on the House floor Monday to reveal a Wal-Mart greeter vest, as he joked about his post-lawmaker plans. Urdahl, 72, is one of 19 state representatives who will not seek re-election in November. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

When Dean Urdahl rose to speak on Monday on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives, he only half-kidded when he said, “one more time, a bonding bill speech. Oh wait, that was last night, and I never gave it.”

Urdahl, 72, is one of the most tenured Republicans in the legislature. He’s one of 19 lawmakers in the House who will not seek re-election this fall. A handful of those legislators were elected by just a few percentage points in 2022.

“After our basic disaster last night, this isn’t really retirement, it’s more of an escape,” Urdahl, again, half-kidded with his colleagues who were engaged in the chaotic closing moments of the 2024 legislative session just hours earlier.

The former school teacher delivered a retirement speech that provided a 20-minute recap of his young adulthood desires to serve his community in St. Paul, and his attempts to balance home and working life as a seasonal lawmaker.

Urdahl said he will walk away knowing there is still much he can accomplish, but “I’m just not having that much fun anymore.”

That seems to be the general tone in the House and Senate in recent weeks, despite Gov. Tim Walz declaring in January that his $982 million bonding proposal would be his “big show” at the legislature and anticipating the session would be “very bipartisan.” It was anything but.

On Monday, Walz was asked by media members during a signing ceremony on a “junk fees” bill whether there would be a special session to tackle the bonding bill that never came for a vote in the House or Senate the day prior.

“Nope,” Walz said. “No special session. Next question.”

GOP calls on Walz to veto tax bill

That reality came amidst a DFL “trifecta” that pushed several signature pieces of legislation unconnected to bonding, including a failed Equal Rights Amendment, and news in April that its one-vote majority in the Senate may be in jeopardy with the arrest of Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, after she was allegedly found breaking into her stepmother’s home in Detroit Lakes. She was charged with first-degree burglary the next day.

On Wednesday, House Republicans called on Walz to veto the 1,400-plus page omnibus bill they say the DFL majority in the House and Senate passed in an “outrageous and unprecedented breach of process.”

“Signing this bill will be an endorsement of a process that will have serious consequences for both chambers for years to come,” wrote House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth and Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson in a joint letter to Walz. “Creating a legislative environment where rules, transparency, and process are second to the whims of partisanship is unhealthy for our state and for the legislature as an institution.”

 “We urge you to do what is right — not just what is politically expedient for you and your party — and veto HF5247.”

GOP, DFL, pivot to November battle for control of legislature

How Republicans and Democrats will each frame the last few weeks of session as they pivot to election season remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: the House of Representatives is due for more turnover. Along with Urdahl’s retirement, other tenured Republicans stepping away from the House include Pat Garofalo of Farmington, first elected in 2004.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, made his last appearance on the floor as a lawmaker this week, after having served in the legislature since 1987. Pelowski was one of a handful of departing legislators who chose not to bid adieu in a House floor speech. Those who delivered a retirement address can be found here.

Rep. Urdahl says goodbye to Democratic Rep. Frank Hornstein, who is also retiring this year after more than 20 years. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

In 2022 a total of 36 state representatives chose not to seek re-election. That November, 11 incumbents were defeated, which meant there were 47 new faces in the House, where Democrats now hold a 70-64 advantage.

Also in 2022, all 67 seats in the Senate were up for grabs for the second time in two years, due to redistricting. When the election dust settled, two dozen Senate districts turned over. The 71 new legislators who walked into the Capitol in January 2023 made for the highest turnover in exactly 50 years.

While the Senate isn’t up for re-election until 2026, many have speculated a resignation this summer is possible for Mitchell. DFL Party Chair Ken Martin has all but called for her resignation. If she were to resign before June 10, then her seat would be placed on the November ballot.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.