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U.S. Rep. Ramstad won't seek re-election in Minnesota

Associated Press

MINNETONKA — U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., announced on Monday that he will not seek a 10th term.

Ramstad, 61, was first elected in 1990 and represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes the western suburbs of Minneapolis.

"Now it’s my time to do something else," he said during a Monday afternoon news conference.

After years of commuting from Minnesota to Washington, Ramstad acknowledged, "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."

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Ramstad, a recovering alcoholic, 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."

For years, Ramstad has also pushed for legislation that would require equal health insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses, when policies include both. 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.

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 the other 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.

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Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said he expected up to a dozen Republicans would consider running for Ramstad’s seat, and the party had scheduled an endorsing convention for April 12.

"We’re going to have to break a sweat this year," Carey said.

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.

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He was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1980, where he served until winning U.S. House seat.

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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