Citing family reasons, Cottage Grove Rep. Kriesel opts against re-electionState Rep. John Kriesel said Thursday he won’t seek re-election to the Minnesota House.
By: Scott Wente and Jon Avise, South Washington County Bulletin
State Rep. John Kriesel cited family reasons as he announced Thursday he won’t seek re-election to the Minnesota House, abruptly stepping away from a rising political career and shaking up a south Washington County legislative race.
Kriesel, a Cottage Grove Republican, announced on a Twin Cities sports radio station that he'll step down at the end of his first term.
Kriesel gained attention as he ran for election in 2010 because of his background as a National Guard soldier who lost his legs to a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq in 2006. His military career was very tough on his family, Kriesel said on KFAN radio.
“Being a state representative obviously pales in comparison to that, but it still causes a lot of strain at home,” he said. “Juggling my job here and my job working for the National Guard, and then still giving my wife and kids the time that they need has been very difficult.”
Kriesel said his wife, Katie, has taken on extra duty at home while also working: “She’s put her own career goals on hold while I’ve been able to pursue every one of my dreams, and so now it’s my turn to step up at home and let her continue on her path.”
Last year Kriesel was among two Republicans who went against their party and opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The move put Kriesel in a larger political spotlight, and he later signed on to help a statewide group working to defeat the measure that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Kriesel, who represents a district that traditionally has elected Democrats, mostly has voted with his GOP caucus. He said he hasn’t suffered backlash from Republicans when he split from the caucus.
“They’ve been very supportive of me,” he said.
Kriesel has been among the most vocal lawmakers seeking a deal to build a new Minnesota Vikings football stadium funded with revenue from expanded gambling. He has introduced other legislation to broaden gambling in Minnesota, and is pushing legislation to legalize more fireworks.
Kriesel said he has appreciated serving in the Legislature.
“I wanted to prove to people that you could be just a regular dude, a regular hardworking guy and be able to come in here and make a difference,” he said. “I feel like I’ve made a difference and hopefully showed people, young people, that you can get involved, you can make a difference.”
Kriesel did not rule out running for office again.
He will continue to work hard until the end of the session, he said.
“There is still much work to be done,” Kriesel said. “I have a genuine passion for politics and plan to stay active, just not as a candidate.”
Kriesel said he looks forward to spending time with his sons this summer, watching them play baseball and going fishing. “all the things kids are supposed to do with their dad.”
He thanked lawmakers and constituents for the opportunity and their support.
“It’s been amazing. Every day I walk in here … it feels almost like a dream,” he said. “It’s something I’ll look back on fondly and I’m glad I did it.”
He was elected to the House in 2010 when he beat DFLer Jen Peterson, a Cottage Grove City Council member. The GOP gain in south Washington County helped to flip the House to Republican control.
Kriesel represents District 57A. Newly drawn legislative boundaries left the district mostly unchanged, but it was renumbered District 54A for the next decade.
Kriesel’s decision likely turns an already-competitive House seat – one that he had won by just a few hundred votes in 2010 – into a hot race.
Kriesel’s decision shakes up the race. Republicans wanted to hold the seat. Democrats have criticized Kriesel for a lack of presence in the community and for not focusing on bread-and-butter legislative issues.
Democrats, who long represented the area in the Legislature, want to regain control of the seat.
Prior to Kriesel’s Thursday announcement, three Democrats said they would seek the party endorsement for the race: St. Paul Park resident Katie Schwartz; former Newport Planning Commissioner Dan Lund; and Cottage Grove police officer Dan Schoen.
Schoen said Thursday he was caught off-guard by Kriesel’s announcement.
“You can’t knock him for making a decision that’s right for his family,” Schoen said.
Schoen said the move leaves the seat wide-open.
“(Kriesel) is definitely a guy with name recognition. He's a high-profile individual,” Schoen said. “I think in any political race the incumbent has an advantage just for being the incumbent. Without a doubt, not having an incumbent in the seat opens the race in any direction.”
Karla Bigham, who held the House seat from 2007 to 2011, said she will not run again this year.
Bigham, a delegate to the upcoming local DFL endorsing convention, said the many Democratic candidates stepping forward for the race is a good sign for her party.
“It shows that there’s lots of enthusiasm to get the state on the right track with jobs and a focus on education and stop the focus of constitutional amendments and socially divisive issues,” Bigham said.
The open seat is promising for Democrats, she said.
“An open contest in really any situation is an ideal situation,” she said. “Going up against an incumbent is a more difficult situation for a challenger.”
Danielle Nordine of the Forum Communications Co. State Capitol Bureau contributed to this story.
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