State Rep. Joe Atkins said Tuesday that he won’t run for re-election after 14 years at the Capitol.
The Inver Grove Heights DFLer said he is eyeing an open seat on the Dakota County Board, telling supporters that he couldn’t wait any longer to announce his decision with precinct caucuses five weeks away.
In an e-mail to supporters Tuesday, Atkins wrote that the Dakota County Board “is nonpartisan, and deals with important issues that I have a lot of experience with, like public safety and transportation. I still love public service and assisting local folks, but I never really got comfortable with the amount of partisanship at the Capitol.”
The move follows scrutiny of his leadership of the BEST Foundation, an education-focused nonprofit that has raised tens of thousands of dollars from companies with business before the Legislature. The Star Tribune reported last week that Atkins’ three children received scholarships from the foundation, though Atkins said that he plays no part in choosing scholarship winners.
Atkins has juggled the $25,000-a-year role as executive director with his full-time job as an attorney.
His work at the foundation took another hit when the Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota determined earlier this month that his job there did not entitle him to public pension benefits he received from the Inver Grove Heights School District. The foundation awards scholarships for students graduating from Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights. Atkins explained that the foundation has always reimbursed the district for his salary and benefits.
Atkins, who chaired the House committee overseeing commerce and consumer protection until Republicans took over the House last year, has sought a wide range of consumer protections, including tougher regulations of fantasy sports betting.
In recent years, Atkins was best known as the main House author of the bill that created MNsure. Atkins defended the health insurance exchange against Republicans’ calls to abolish the system in favor of the federal exchange. He also was behind the law to allow alcohol during University of Minnesota Gophers football games at TCF Bank Stadium.
Atkins decided against running to succeed longtime Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline after weeks of consideration last fall, saying: “The key factor in my decision, quite simply, is where can I do the most good for the most people?”
If he wins the County Board seat, Atkins would join two former Republican legislators on the board: Chris Gerlach and Mary Liz Holberg. Several legislators have left the Capitol to run for county government posts, which generally pay much better than the rank-and-file pay of $31,141.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, described Atkins in a statement as “one of the sharpest policy and political minds in St. Paul,” who always had new ideas. Thissen added: “His wit on the House floor made many long sessions a little bit brighter for everyone.”