It’s a bonding year at the Minnesota Capitol, but the DFL-controlled House and Senate will push a number of pet projects the Democratic “trifecta” is expected to make front and center issues beginning Feb. 12, the first day of session.
Whether it’s a proposed $500 million program that would subsidize early childhood daycare for middle-income families or a bill to make Minnesota the 11th state in the nation to legalize physician-assisted suicide, there won’t be a shortage of lengthy and passionate debates among Democrats and Republicans over a host of issues that have nothing to do with roads, bridges and maintaining the state’s infrastructure.
The question remains — how will a bevy of recently announced retirements in the House impact the debate over and momentum of those bills? It’s anybody’s guess.
In the House, eight Republicans and eight Democrats have announced they won’t be seeking a new term this November.
One of those, Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, is stepping down the day before the session begins. That will effectively give the DFL majority a 70-63 voting bloc advantage on issues that end up falling along party lines, one more than it had last year.
The GOP will also lose two of its longest tenured legislators in five-term Brian Daniels of Faribault and 10-term Pat Garofalo of Farmington. While some, like Daudt, are leaving for reasons not stated, Garofalo said he felt 20 years serving in elected office was long enough.
“As shocking as last session was, it really, in hindsight, shouldn’t have been a surprise to everybody. Because you do have this sort of, despite very, very narrow majorities, just a hard left, trained activist class that’s running the legislature,” Garofalo told Twin Cities journalist and conservative talk show host Joe Soucheray last month in his first interview after he announced his the 2024 session will be his last. Garofalo has long been a proponent of legalizing sports gambling, whose supporters continue to work to find bipartisan support.
Daniels told his constituents last fall that he “will continue to represent them until a new state representative is seated in 2025.”
That might not be the case for Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, who in September announced she would not seek a fourth term in the legislature, but just a few weeks later began campaigning for a vacant seat on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners. Edelson told Alpha News in October that while she campaigns for the District 6 county board special election primary that takes place in April she will continue to work for her constituents in the legislature.
“If I win, I would have to resign (from the legislature) after session ends, but would be able to help community members from the county office,” Edelson said.
The longest tenured legislator set to retire after this session is Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, known as a moderate who has crossed over party lines a fair number of times since he first stepped into the Capitol in 1987. Pelowski has long been a ranking Democrat on higher education committees and has sometimes cast a pro-life vote on abortion-related legislation.
“Thank you to the residents of Legislative District 26A for allowing me to participate in a remarkable four decades of public service,” Pelowski told his constituents last month. It’s not yet clear how his voting record will factor into many of the more politically polarizing bills Democrats have said they will pursue this session.
Here’s the full list of legislators set to retire in 2024:
- Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona
- First elected to the state House in 1986, Pelowski’s announced departure received heavy media attention across the state last month. He has long either chaired or been the ranking minority lead on the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee. A rare pro-life Democrat, Pelowski won his 2022 re-election bid by nearly 11 points, but the seat is expected to be competitive for Republicans this fall.
- Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville
- Becker-Finn is retiring after four terms in a seat that is solidly Democrat. She chairs the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.
- Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park
- Nelson is retiring after 11 terms serving a reliably Democratic area. The chair of the House Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee ran unopposed in 2022.
- Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids
- Newton is retiring after four terms in a district he won by less than 250 votes in 2022. He chairs the Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee
- Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth
- Olson is leaving the House after four terms. She serves as the chair for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which is often the last stop before major omnibus bills make their way to the House floor.
- Laurie Pryor, DFL-Minnetonka
- Pryor is making her fourth term her last in a district that is considered safe for Democrats. She is the current chair of the Education Policy Committee, which was a focal point of many reforms during the 2023 legislative session.
- Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina
- Edelson is stepping away from the House after three terms representing a large swath of Edina. Although Edelson doesn’t chair any committees during this biennium, she has often been an influential voice on a number of politically-charged proposals where Democrats have needed her vote. It’s anticipated that her seat is a safe bet to stay in DFL hands, but it wasn’t long ago (in 2016) that a moderate Republican represented Edina in the state House.
- Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis
- Hassan announced this week that she will not seek a fourth term in the Minnesota House. She currently serves as chair of the Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee.
- Kurt Daudt, R-Crown
- Daudt is one of the most senior leaders among the Republican caucus, but lost his top spot as minority leader in 2023 to Lisa Demuth. Daudt has been credited with twice helping Republicans win majorities in the state House during his tenure.
- Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington
- Garofalo has served in a number of committee leadership positions during his 20-plus years in the state House. He’s currently the minority lead in the influential Ways and Means Committee, and he has been something of a learned expert on matters involving property taxes, and climate and energy.
- John Petersburg, R-Waseca
- Petersburg is retiring after first entering the legislative fray in 2013. He’s currently the Republican lead on the Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, as his voice has been strong for greater Minnesota on one of the most debated areas of government spending.
- Brian Daniels, R-Faribault
- Daniels currently serves as the Republican lead in the Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee, where a $500 million proposal to subsidize early childcare expenses for middle-income families will be debated this session.
- Deb Kiel, R-Crookston
- Kiel is the Republican lead on the Humans Services Committee, which is the first stop for spending bills and policy discussion on some of the state’s most expensive areas of government that focus on assistance programs supporting vulnerable Minnesotans. Kiel has represented the Crookston area in the House since 2011.
- Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook
- Grossell is retiring after four terms representing a number of northwest Minnesota communities. With a background in law enforcement, he serves on the Judiciary and Civil Law and Public Safety committees.
- Brian Pfarr, R-Le Sueur
- Pfarr is stepping down after two terms serving constituents in and around his home of Le Sueur. He sits on Commerce, Legacy and the Ways and Means committees.
- Mark Wiens, R-Lake Elmo
- Wiens serves a “purple” district in the east metro and will retire after winning his only term by just more than 100 votes in 2022. Wiens serves on the Judiciary, Workforce Development and Veteran Affairs committees in the House.
Issues slated for debate, passage in the House and Senate this session:
- Nearly $1 billion bonding bill
- Bill to make Minnesota a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants
- Legislation that would prohibit cities from requiring parking minimums for new development
- Putting abortion amendment on the November ballot
- Proposed tweaks to legislation that impacts School Resource Officers
- Sports gambling legislation
- Assisted suicide legislation
- New firearm restrictions
- Early childcare subsidies bill targeting middle income families
- Further legislation on Recreational Cannabis regulation
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.