Tears Flow At Retirement Speeches

By Don Davis and Danielle Nordine

Torrey Westrom recalled the last time he saw the Minnesota House chamber when he was in sixth grade, a few years before he was blinded and several years before becoming a state representative.

Bill Hilty said many of his colleagues will be back next year and “carrying on, which makes my decision easier.”

And John Kriesel called his time in the House “crazy.”

The three and 20 other Minnesota House representatives are leaving after this session, along with 13 senators.

In an every-two-year ritual, legislators leaving delivered speeches, sometimes teary, sometimes humorous and sometimes just long, Thursday as the 2012 Minnesota Legislature ended.

The House adjourned for the year before 4 a.m. and the Senate just after 2 p.m.

Speeches included several featuring tear-filled eyes, such as Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, who apologized to a former boyfriend for being too involved in her legislative job, and Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, who said it was time to leave because since he was elected he married and became a father.

Some representatives, like Westrom, hope to keep a job under the Capitol dome, but as senators.

Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, began his speech by wadding up a piece of paper and throwing it aside.

“I wrote up a bunch of notes, but I will crumble them up and throw them away,” the state’s only blind lawmaker said. “I haven’t use notes in 16 years and will not start tonight.”

Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, generally is quiet lawmaker but Thursday he turned comedian.

Reading a saying in the front of the House chamber, he said; “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

After a pause, he added: “If God was a Vikings fan, why did he let us lose four Super Bowls?”

Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, delivered his goodbye early, and kept it short. He had a plane to catch for Las Vegas, a favorite vacation spot of his. He arrived before senators finished their retirement speeches.

Not everyone who was retiring gave speeches. One who did not is Rep. Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail, who left right after a Vikings stadium vote because he remains in pain after rotator cuff surgery.

Other House retirees include Reps. Marion Greene, DFL-Minneapolis; Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis (running for state Senate); Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls; Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin; Pat Mazorol, R-Bloomington; Connie Doepke, R-Orono (running for state Senate); Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada (running for state Senate); Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake (running for state Senate); Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley (running for state Senate); Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood; Ron Shimanski, R-Silver Lake; Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville; Kurt Bills, R-Rosemount (running for the U.S. Senate); Rep. Brandon Peterson, R-Andover (running for state Senate); Keith Downey, R-Edina (running for state Senate); Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan; and Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo Township (running for state Senate).

Senators who are leaving include Sens. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon; Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas; Doug Magus, R-Slayton; Amy Koch, R-Buffalo; Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley; Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista; Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis; Geoff Michel, R-Edina; Mike Parry, R-Waseca (running for U.S. House); Ken Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis; Mary Jo McGuire, DFL-Falcon Heights; Mike Jungbauer, R-East Bethel; and Claire Robling, R-Jordan.


Rep. Torrey Westrom

Westrom said he was in the House gallery in 1985.

“I was up there, looking down on the floor as a sixth grader,” he recalled, adding he never saw the Capitol again. “That is the last memory I have of this chamber. But that is a great memory.”

He lost his sight in an accident when he was 16.

In his first year in office, 16 years ago, Westrom said someone came up to him and asked: “Do you think you won with the sympathy vote”’ I said, ‘I hope not.’”

Last year, Westrom became what is believed to be the first blind legislator to preside over a legislative session. He repeated the act this year.

“That speaker’s chair and gavel is a tremendous experience,” Westrom said.

“What a building,” he added. “Every time you come into it, it gives you chills.”


Rep. Bill Hilty

The Finlayson Democrat is known for delivering dry speeches on the House floor, but he broke out of that mold on his last night.

“I try not to take myself too seriously, and frankly there are some of you I don’t take too seriously,” he said to laughs.

Turing serious, however, he echoed what many other lawmakers said: “The staff is truly remarkable.”


Rep. Kent Eken

A second generation state representative, the Twin Valley Democrat is running for the Senate.

The true sign of service is ““when a person plants trees that they never will enjoy…” said Eken. “We need to be thinking about the next generation, not just the next election.”

Eken said he planned to run for the House again until judges drew new legislative districts that threw him in with Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth.

“I wasn’t able to dig up enough dirt on Paul,” he joked, so he had to run for another office.


Rep. John Kriesel

One of the best known legislators, the Cottage Grove Republican lost his legs in the Iraq war.

“I ended up having a rough day in Iraq,” he said. “A lot changed. … It made me a better person.”

The Legislature also made him better, he added.

“It’s been a heck of a ride,” the one-term lawmaker said.


Sen. Keith Langseth

Democrat Langseth of Glyndon served in the Legislature for 36 years.

“I’ve always had something else I wanted to do until now, and what I want to do now is say goodbye,” Langseth said. “It is time to move on.”

Langseth said he will now be able to spend more time with his wife.

He has been one of the longest serving lawmakers, well known for his work on public works borrowing plans and flood issues.

“I was 12 years old when Keith Langseth was first elected,” Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, tweeted during Langseth’s speech.


Sen. Gretchen Hoffman

A teary Hoffman thanked her fellow lawmakers, staff and constituents.

“This has been my great honor,” the Vergas Republican said.

But it has been difficult too, she said.

“I learned what a sacrifice this job is,” she said.

She took the time to personally apologize to Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, whose comments Hoffman had incorrectly tweeted about last year, leading to ethics charges.

“I made it personal last year,” she said. “I’m very sorry.”


Sen. Doug Magnus

Magnus was very emotional as he bid lawmakers and staff goodbye.

Toward the beginning of his speech, someone handed him a box of tissues.

“You think I’m going to need those?” he joked. He reached for them a few minutes later.

Magnus, a Slayton Republican, used poetry and quotes to make his points.

“Not many farmers sit up here and recite poetry,” he said.

He said he is looking forward to the future, whatever it brings.

“I don’t know what the next stage is, friends, but I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it,” he said.