State Senator Linda Berglin, who served in the Minnesota Legislature for nearly 40 years, has announced she's retiring from the Senate next month. The Minneapolis Democrat has been influential in setting health care policy. She helped create MinneaotaCare, a state subsidized health insurance program for low and middle income Minnesotans.
Berglin said the fact that Democrats no longer hold the majority was a factor in her decision, as were a decade of budget cuts to Health and Human Services programs.
"During the last six months, I felt that my talents and skills have been underutilized in the Minnesota Senate," Berglin said in a prepared statement. "As I see so much of what I have worked on over the years being chipped away or repealed entirely, I worry that our state is moving away from the community spirit that has made us such a great place."
Berglin was a member of the "Gang of 7" lawmakers who helped craft the MinnesotaCare program in the early 1990s. It was created to help contain rising health care costs and flourished when Minnesota's economy was prosperous in the late 1990s.
"I would say the creation of MinnesotaCare would have to be landmark," Berglin said when asked what she considered her top achievement. "There are many other states in the nation that are envious of us because we have that legislation.
Berglin said her biggest disappointment was chairing the Senate Health and Human Services Finance Committee during eight years of budget deficits. She was forced to protect proposed cuts to MinnesotaCare and other social service programs from 2003-2011. Governor Pawlenty pushed for those cuts during his eight years in office. Republicans, who took control of the Minnesota Senate in 2010 election, also worked to cut funding for those services in the 2011 legislative session.
Berglin said losing her chair of the powerful Health and Human Services Finance Committee is one of the reasons she's decided to leave the Legislature. She also noted disappointment that the health care provider tax, which is used to finance the MinnesotaCare program, will be repealed by 2019.
Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said Berglin was one of the most outstanding legislators over the past fifty years. He said she worked to protect the poorest people in the state.
"When she approaches the Pearly Gates, that's going to be a quick entry because she protected the most in need in our society," Pogemiller said.
Berglin was first elected to the Minnesota House in 1972. She moved to the Minnesota Senate in 1981. The Minnesota Legislative Library says Berglin is the longest serving female in the Minnesota Senate and is tied with Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis for serving in the Legislature longer than any other woman. Both were sworn into office in 1973.
"I'm so glad that there are more now," Berglin said when told that she served in the Senate longer than any other woman.
Gov. Dayton issued this statement thanking Berglin for her service:
"Senator Berglin has been one of the great leaders of the Minnesota Legislature for the last 39 years. I join with her many friends and admirers in thanking her for her dedicated service and her lasting contributions for the betterment of our state."
Berglin is taking a position as Public Policy Manager with Hennepin County with a focus on health care. Her retirement will be effective on August 15th.
Dayton will have to call a special election to fill her seat. His spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci, says Dayton has not made a decision on when the special election will be called. Her district is considered a DFL stronghold.
Dayton also needs to call a special election for Senate District 46. That seat was vacated when Sen. Linda Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park, died in June.
You can listen to Berglin's news conference here: Listen
The Minnesota Legislative Reference Library also compiled this web page documenting Berglin's career.
It was inspiring watching Senator Berglin in action at the State Capitol. Her intellect and knowledge will be missed and is lost but Hennepin County has gained a gem.