MINNEAPOLIS — Former Democratic state lawmaker Tom Rukavina, a champion of northeastern Minnesota's blue-collar Iron Range, died Monday, a former legislative colleague said. Rukavina was 68.
Rukavina died in Minneapolis, where he was being treated for an aggressive form of leukemia, state Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm said. Tomassoni said Rukavina's daughter, Ida, told him of her father's death.
"He will be remembered as a fiery, passionate giant that never stopped working for his beloved Iron Range and for the little people," Tomassoni told The Associated Press. "He was the kind of guy if he wasn't yelling at you, he probably didn't like you."
Rukavina was born in Virginia, Minnesota, of Croatian ancestry and served in the Minnesota House for 25 years, until 2012. He was later elected to the St. Louis County Board and served there until retiring last year because of health reasons.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted she will miss Rukavina's "zest for life & love for the people he represented so well."
"As Tom would tell it, he was for the little fellers, not the Rockefellers — a tribute to his friend and the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash on his way to attend a funeral for Tom's father, Bennie," Klobuchar said in a statement.
Rukavina had worked as a milk truck driver and a garbage truck driver and was a miner at Minntac for three years before his election to the state House. He ran for governor in 2010 but dropped out during the DFL state convention.
"Sometime, I wasn't politically correct but I always tried to be politically honest," Rukavina told Minnesota Public Radio News in 2012.
"Part of the Range died today," said former Aurora Mayor Dave Lislegard, a Democrat who will be sworn into the Minnesota House on Tuesday. "His passion was real. It wasn't manufactured."
DFL Chairman Ken Martin said Rukavina was a "bulldog" for "all of the working men and women in Minnesota."
"Tom Rukavina was known for his honesty, his authenticity, and his advocacy for those trying to build a better life for their families. Today Minnesota lost a one-of-a-kind individual who left a deep impression on everyone who knew him," Martin said in a statement.