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m2732 BC-MN-Ramstad-Retiremen 8thLd-Writethru 09-17 0987

‘Time to do something else’: Minnesota’s Ramstad won’t run in ’08

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By MARTIGA LOHN

Associated Press Writer

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MINNETONKA, Minn. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, a moderate Republican who succeeded in politics while fighting his addiction to alcohol, said Monday he doesn’t plan to run for re-election next year.

Announcing his retirement from Congress at a news conference, Ramstad confessed that 17 years of commuting between Minnesota and Washington had worn him out. He said he is ready to spend more time close to home, helping other addicts and maybe teaching a few classes.

"Now it’s my time to do something else," he said.

He added: "I’m burned out. I’m tired. I still have the passion for policy-making, I still have the passion for politics. But I want to be home."

The 61-year-old politician was first elected in 1990 after serving a decade in the state Senate and represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes the western suburbs of Minneapolis.

Ramstad — who on Monday credited his turnaround to voters who gave him a second chance after he landed in a Sioux Falls, S.D., jail cell in 1981 — has focused much of his energy on addiction and alcohol issues. He said his retirement would give him "time to spend more time directly helping young people suffering the ravages of chemical addiction."

He said his biggest accomplishment would be legislation that has yet to pass Congress — a plan to require equal health insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses, when policies include both. Ramstad said it’s a "life or death issue to millions of Americans," and predicted the bill will become law.

Last year, Ramstad said one "silver lining" to the Democrats winning both houses of Congress was the increased chances of passing the bill, known as mental health parity.

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In the House, Ramstad has carved out a moderate record. His voting record has been relatively liberal on social issues such as abortion, and more conservative on fiscal issues. He has opposed oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Ramstad’s views on social issues were a good fit for his district, and his easy re-elections have masked the growing competitiveness of his suburban district, said Joe Peschek, a political science professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn.

"I think that the DFL would see it as an opportunity, that at least it’s possible if they can field a good candidate, particularly in 2008 where there are a lot of indications that the Republicans are playing defense," Peschek said.

The district runs from the suburbs of Bloomington and Edina west to the leafy shores of Lake Minnetonka, and includes the fast-growing cities of Maple Grove and Rogers. President Bush beat Democrat John Kerry there by three percentage points in 2004, a narrower margin than his win four years earlier.

Ramstad said he decided to retire last month and announced it on Monday to give candidates time to start their campaigns. He said Republicans should not assume the district is safe, noting that it currently has more Democratic state legislators than Republicans.

"This will be a wide-open race," he said.

Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said he expected up to two dozen GOP and DFL candidates to consider the once-in-a-generation chance to run for an open seat in Congress.

Many of the potential candidates were mulling the unexpected possibility as the news spread.

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On the Democratic side, DFL Party activist Buck Humphrey, former federal prosecutor Andy Luger and state Rep. Melissa Hortman said they were considering it. State Sen. Terri Bonoff declined to outline any plans, saying it would be "disrespectful and premature" to do so on the day of Ramstad’s announcement.

Republicans who were considering the prospect included state Sens. David Hann and Geoff Michel and former state Rep. Jeff Johnson. Andy Brehm, a law school student and former spokesman for Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said he hadn’t thought about it yet. State Reps. Kurt Zellers and Erik Paulsen and former state Sen. David Gaither didn’t immediately return phone messages.

Carey said the GOP will hold an endorsing convention on April 12. He conceded that keeping the seat in Republican hands won’t be a "slam dunk." Ramstad said he has no plans to endorse a candidate for his seat.

Ramstad becomes the seventh House Republican to announce he will not seek re-election next year — and the third member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership to do so.

Norm Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said there will likely be an even greater exodus of Republicans to follow.

"When you lose the majority, it’s a jolt," he said. "And for the moderate Republicans, it’s an even bigger jolt."

He said the GOP retirements will make it a taller order for the Republicans to take back the House next year.

"A seat like Ramstad’s, which he could hold in the face of very good Democratic year, becomes at least contestable," Ornstein added.

Ramstad is the senior Republican in the state’s delegation. A native of Jamestown, N.D., Ramstad did stints as a congressional aide to Rep. Tom Kleppe, R-N.D., as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, as an adjunct professor, and as court-appointed counsel for indigent criminal defendants.

Ramstad is the Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor of Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I. To help educate members on the addiction and alcoholism, they formed the Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus.

Ramstad serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

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Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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