Minnesota State Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen looks back at sheriff days, legislative work
From the Douglas County Sheriff's Office to the State Capitol, Bill Ingebrigtsen has provided 50 years of service. He is officially retired as of Jan. 3, 2023.
ALEXANDRIA — After 50 years of service, Bill Ingebrigtsen, 70, has decided to hang up his hat.
His journey into service started in his hometown of Hallock, a small farming community located in Minnesota's northwest corner not far from the North Dakota state line. It's where he met his high school sweetheart, Marilyn, who later became his wife and where, he says, he got his sense of service to others.
Ingebrigtsen said life was good in Hallock. He kept busy with sports like baseball, football and hockey and did his fair share of hunting and fishing. As he got older, he took on work for local farms. From driving tractors to hauling so many hay bales that he swore he would never touch another one again.
"I ended up actually marrying the farmer's daughter," he added.
By 1962, his father was elected as sheriff of the county. He remained in office until 1970. In those days, the sheriff's family moved into the jail. His mother was in charge of feeding the inmates and Ingebrigtsen himself often had to act as a jailer in his late teens.
Ingebrigtsen recalled that he was given strict orders to not open the cells.
Being a "bigger kid," Ingebrigtsen took pride in helping those in need or as he said, "helping out the underdog." He says it was one of the reasons he always wanted to go into law enforcement.
After high school, Ingebrigtsen and Marilyn moved south to Fergus Falls. She studied nursing in Fergus while he commuted every day to study at Alexandria Technical and Community College for law enforcement training. He says its law enforcement program was, and still is, the best in the state.
In 1972, Ingebrigtsen graduated and took a job with the Glenwood Police Department. A few years later, he was hired on with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. He became the first K-9 deputy and rose through the ranks to sergeant. In 1990, he ran for sheriff and won.
Ingebrigtsen officially took over as sheriff in 1991 and held the office until 2007, putting in a total of 34 years of law enforcement. He said working for Douglas County was very satisfying, adding that the community is easy to work for because residents appreciate law enforcement.
"My feeling was that the public was comfortable with me being the chief law enforcement officer. That was probably the biggest reward for me," he said.
The most dangerous situation Ingebrigtsen encountered during his law enforcement career happened in the mid-1990s and it involved the FBI.
Douglas Baker and Leroy Wheeler of Pope and Douglas counties violated the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act. They possessed a deadly toxin known as ricin and planned to use it against state and local government officials. Ingebrigtsen's address was on their map of potential targets. Their conviction was the first under BWATA since its enactment in 1990.
"It was a terrible time in our history, locally," he said.
When asked if he ever had doubts about continuing on in law enforcement after that, he said, "No, I never got scared out of my job... When you sign up (as law enforcement), you're going to have people get angry with you. Quite frankly, that's such a small minority."
All in all, Ingebrigtsen is most proud of the connection he built with the community and the trust his hard work earned.
At age 54, three months shy of retiring from law enforcement, Ingebrigtsen decided to run for state Senate. He said he was encouraged by local conservative voices to run as well as some from the Capitol. He admitted that he also wasn't impressed with the district senator at the time.
"He just simply wasn't coming home from St. Paul. He wasn't responding. You have to live in the district and he wasn't doing that anymore," Ingebrigtsen recalls. "He also got cancer. Frankly, he should not have ran... That's a little bothersome to me about politics. When they can influence you into running even when you're sick. I said, 'Nobody's ever going to influence me like that.'"
After research, more encouragement and discussions with his wife, Ingebrigtsen agreed to run and won, beating the six-time DFL incumbent, Dallas Sams.
Ingebrigtsen assumed office on Jan. 7, 2007. Sams passed away the following March. Ingebrigtsen would stay in office for the next 16 years.
During his time, he saw Republicans take control of the senate after 42 years of DFL control. He sat on numerous committees and advocated for agriculture, the environment, public safety, veterans affairs and rural economic development.
He sat as chair for the Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, vice chair for the Finance Committee and the Committee for Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy.
He pushed the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council into action — which advocates for restoring, protecting and enhancing Minnesota's wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game and wildlife — and named it after the man who laid the foundation work, his predecessor, Sams. He also sat on the conference committee that worked to build U.S. Bank Stadium.
He also took part in negotiations with Zygi Wilf, chairperson of the Minnesota Vikings, and created an amendment to the project that made sure the wood used for the construction of the stadium came from Minnesota.
While there are many things he is proud of during his time as a state senator, his time in office didn't end without some regret.
Throughout his career, he has been vocal about keeping marijuana illegal. But, in July of last year, a bill was passed that legalized Delta-9 THC edibles. Ingebrigtsen's signature was on the bill.
"That was a last-minute deal that came into the HHS (health and human services) bill, which was a good policy bill, and that's why I voted for it," he said.
Looking back, he said he probably would not have signed the bill. But he did acknowledge the benefits of medical-grade marijuana like its uses for nausea and pain. His concern deals with recreational use and how it could affect young people.
"I just worry about the kids getting involved. It's a psychological drug. People don't realize that it is dangerous. And it is more dangerous now than when I was copping because they raised the THC content."
Although last July's bill was an oversight, Ingebrigtsen has compromised over the marijuana issue in the past. When a bill was introduced to allow hemp to be grown in Minnesota, he signed that one too. Originally, he voted against it seven times but after some amendments he personally wrote, he ultimately voted for it.
Ingebrigtsen said he always kept his door open for those on "both sides of the aisle." Even if he didn't agree with them, he said he would still listen because compromise with the other party is essential for getting things done.
"If you're in the minority, and you want to get anything done, you have to cooperate with the majority. We all are here to solve Minnesota's problems and I want to be part of it. I'm just not going to sit there and poke you in the eye. Some guys did that. And some of them are still there. But you'll find out they don't get anything done," he said.
All in all, Ingebrigtsen said his greatest accomplishment was feeling like he did right by his voters and being a part of a Republican controlled Senate.
"When you're winning your last elections by 62, 65, 67%, That tells you something — that the public thinks you're doing a good job and that's my biggest accomplishment," he said. "They say you have to have an ego to do these kinds of jobs. And I suppose there is something to that. But I never put myself above anybody."
Now, after 16 years of work as a legislator for Minnesota, Ingebrigtsen says it is time to "let someone else do it."
"It's time to go back home now," he added. "I just really appreciate the fact (my constituents) allowed me to represent their views in St. Paul. I feel that I have done that over the years and I thank the public for their very valuable input."
Ingebrigtsen officially retired on Jan. 3, 2023. He is looking forward to spending more time with his family and "teaching the next generation how to fish." He taught his children, and his grandchildren and will now start teaching his great-grandchildren. But his time in government may not be done for good. He says he plans on occasionally participating in party politics on a more local level.