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Minnesota Legislature

Socially distant but emotionally resonant — retirement speeches highlight friendships, look to future

House members and staff applaud Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Sr. at the end of his May 18 retiring speech. The longest serving legislator in Minnesota history, Carlson was first elected in 1972. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Normally, there would have been hugs.

But social distancing measures intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 limited the House of Representatives to standing ovations as retiring members bid an emotional farewell to their colleagues Monday.

The afternoon marked the end of the 2020 regular legislative session, and the retirements of more than a dozen representatives, who thanked family, House staff, mentors, and friends – especially those in the Legislature.

“This place is about people and it’s about relationships,” said Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau). “It’s been an honor and a privilege to be here”

Those retiring include Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Sr. (DFL-Crystal), Minnesota’s longest-serving legislator, who was first elected in 1972.

Rep. Dan Fabian pats fellow retiring member Bud Nornes on the shoulder at the conclusion of retiring members' speeches May 18. Also pictured are Rep. Jim Nash, back to the camera, Rep. Brian Johnson and Minority Leader Kurt Daudt. Photo by Paul Battaglia

That’s 24 terms, spanning 48 years, with perfect attendance. Though Carlson did have a few near misses, including the day of his grandfather’s funeral and after a blizzard, when he hadn’t been plowed out and couldn’t shovel fast enough, he said.

“I got a ride with (Representative, now Senator) Ann Rest,” he said. “I walked into the House Chamber in a snowmobile suit right before they were set to adjourn. For a long time, the story was that I had snowmobiled in, but no.”

During that time, he and former Rep. Phyllis Kahn served with an estimated 700 other legislators. When they started, there were no offices or legislative assistants, just a steno pool.

But one of the biggest changes in the Legislature in that time has been a shift away from “the art of compromise,” to “the art of having the votes,” Carlson said.

“The art of compromise is not a bad thing … it’s part of good government and I wish we would go back to that,” he said.

Other retiring representatives also offered advice, words of warning, and hopes for the future.

“We have a lot of work to do here. We are complacent in this institution. We regularly miss the opportunity to improve the process … we become defensive and stop listening … we say things like, ‘Well, it’s the way we have always done it,’” said Rep. Alice Mann (DFL-Lakeville), who urged the House continue working to address misogyny and systemic racism.

2020 Departing House Member Speeches 5/18/20

Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls) urged the House to take scientific evidence under closer consideration in setting priorities and making decisions.

“Why aren’t we listening to the scientists? COVID-19 has proven that ignoring science can be deadly,” she said. “Just as in chronic wasting disease, pollinators, hormone disrupters and so many other things, we need to listen to the scientists.”

Many of the retiring representatives spoke of the personal influence their time in the House has had on them, and the way that collaboration with fellow legislators has led to stronger legislation, as well as friendships.

“Yes, Virginia, there are bipartisan friendships,” Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan) joked. “Don’t stop being friends. Don’t stop being kind. Don’t stop giving each other grace.”

The retiring representatives whose terms will end in January 2021:

House Public Information Services’ Writer Rob Hubbard contributed to this report

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