Two years after he bowed out of the political arena, former state lawmaker Tom Rukavina is jumping back in.
"I missed it, to be honest with you. I just missed being able to work a room and I missed being with people," said Rukavina, one of three candidates vying for a nonpartisan seat on the St. Louis County Board.
Rukavina, a Democrat, retired from the Legislature in 2012, stepping down from the seat he held for 26 years. He filed the paperwork for his new campaign on Tuesday morning.
"For the past year and a half, people would come up to me and say, 'Oh, Rukavina, thank you for your service. We really wish you were still in politics.' So I'm going to see if they really meant it or not," he said with a laugh.
The Mesabi Daily News reports that he faces former Cook City Councilwoman Kirsten Reichel and Vermilion Lake Township resident Christina Hujanen in the nonpartisan election. The job offers a full-time salary of about $55,000 and, Rukavina said, the opportunity "to be home every night with my wife," after two and a half decades of shuttling back and forth to St. Paul.
Rukavina, whose past campaigns have ranged from Minnesota governor to the Virginia school board, was a fierce, funny force on the state political scene. During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, he gave out underpants emblazoned with the slogan "Refreshingly Honest."
In his farewell message to his colleagues, he lamented "the changing atmosphere at the Capitol."
“I recall a kinder and gentler time here when even the most conservative members of our body still believed government could do good things for our people," he wrote at the time. "But times have changed and I haven’t so it’s time for a new direction.”
County government, he said, is another story -- a nonpartisan office and a chance to help constituents at the ground level.
"I left because it had gotten a little out of hand in St. Paul. I'm hoping it will be a little tamer and nicer in Duluth and in Ely and Virginia and Hibbing," he said.
Rukavina, 63, had been eyeing the seat of retiring St. Louis County commissioner Mike Forsman of Ely for some time. The Duluth News Tribune dubbed his campaign plans "the worst-kept secret on the Iron Range."
Rukavina has been working as an Iron Range staffer for Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan but says he will step down from that post around July, as his own campaign heats up.
"That way, if I put my foot in my mouth, I won't put my foot in his mouth," he said, laughing again.
Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler