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Tears flow at legislative retirements

ST. PAUL -- Torrey Westrom recalled the last time he saw the Minnesota House chamber when he was in 6th 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 Representative Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, who apologized to a former boyfriend for being too involved in her legislative job, and Representative 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 crumple them up and throw them away," the state's only blind lawmaker said. "I haven't used notes in 16 years and will not start tonight."

Westrom said he was in the House gallery in 1985.

"I was up there, looking down on the floor as a 6th 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."

Other House retirees include Representatives 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 Senators 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.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.