Ramstad in mix to be Obama's 'drug czar'

  • Updated: November 18, 2008 - 10:50 PM

The retiring congressman from Minnetonka is known for his work on mental illness and substance abuse issues.

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Jim Ramstad

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Rep. Jim Ramstad's name is being bandied about in Washington, D.C., as a possible "drug czar," or head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

President-Elect Barack Obama is filling out his team, and Politico, a respected D.C. tabloid that covers all things Washington, has mentioned the retiring Minnesota Republican as a potentially popular and bipartisan pick.

Asked for confirmation, Ramstad told the Star Tribune, "It's humbling to be mentioned for this important position, and that's all I can say."

Sources close to Ramstad, a recovering alcoholic and longtime proponent of mental health and drug treatment, say he might be interested. Although Ramstad cited fatigue with the weekly Washington commute in his decision to retire after 18 years in Congress, sources say that could be trumped by his passion for helping people like himself.

Ramstad's spokesman, Dean Peterson, told Politico that it's "gratifying to hear Jim's name being mentioned for drug czar." Peterson noted that Ramstad has worked for 27 years on anti-drug efforts in Congress and the Minnesota Senate.

"As a recovering person, he's worked every day to help those suffering the ravages of chemical addiction," Peterson told Politico.

The speculation comes as President Bush readies to sign landmark mental health "parity" legislation on Thursday that was pushed in large part by Ramstad and his protégé in treatment, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I. The bill aims to give people with mental illnesses the same access to insurance and treatment as people with physical illnesses.

The Obama camp has not responded to Star Tribune inquiries about the report.

KEVIN DIAZ

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