Rep. Ryan Winkler, the Golden Valley DFLer known for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of low-wage workers and efforts to reform campaign finance laws, said Thursday he will resign his position this summer because his wife, Jenny Winkler, has accepted a job in Belgium.

Winkler, first elected in 2006, served five terms in the House, where during floor sessions he often directed stinging jabs at Republicans and the occasional DFLer. The Harvard-educated attorney often baited Republicans with absurdist arguments intended to embarrass his opponents. 

“You need to find a way to advance the cause and create your own little base of power,” Winkler, 39, said in an interview. “For me, one of the ways was by being outspoken on issues and challenging others when I felt they weren’t being totally forthcoming with the truth.”

His wife accepted the post of senior vice president and general counsel for Rezidor Hotel Group, a hotel management firm based in Brussels. Winkler said they made the relocation decision shortly after legislators returned from a spring break recess — “proof that secrets can be kept at the Capitol,” he said. Winkler will continue his work as general counsel for Biothera, a Minnesota-based biotechnology company, splitting his time between Brussels and Minnesota.

Winkler said he will remain in the Legislature until after the end of the special session, which is not expected to start before early June. A special election is forthcoming for his seat, which is in what Democrats consider a safe DFL district. Winkler said he hopes it will coincide with municipal elections in the fall.

At least two possible candidates emerged Thursday. Peggy Flanagan, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, and Brian Shekleton, policy aide to Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, said they are interested in running for the seat. 

Winkler’s legislative accomplishments include the creation of a fund for victims of the 35W bridge collapse. He sponsored a  2013 measure to boost the state’s minimum wage and tie future increases to inflation. More recently, he fought unsuccessfully to reform campaign finance rules to increase disclosures of spending by outside political groups.

Winkler also sponsored legislation for early-learning scholarships, a program that is now part of a dispute over how Minnesota will offer preschool programming to its youngest learners.

“That’s a huge change from when I first came to St. Paul,” Winkler said. “Even if it doesn’t turn out great, the fact that it’s front and center in the political debate has to be a good thing for kids.”

“Impatience for justice”

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, praised Winkler for his work on the minimum-wage efforts. 

“The Legislature will miss Ryan’s wit and intelligence, but most of all we will miss his impatience with injustice,” Thissen said in a statement. “He is always willing to take on the tough fights and not back down.”

Winkler even drew best wishes from political adversary Ben Golnik, executive director of the House Republican caucus, who tweeted “Will miss @RepRyanWinkler’s trolling of the GOP on the house floor. Best wishes on the family move!

Winkler signaled that his time in Minnesota politics is not over yet, telling a reporter: “I only ask that you don’t write this in the past tense … this is not an obituary.”

Ricardo Lopez • 651-925-5044

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