Four-term Minnesota Rep. Nick Zerwas, battling a lifelong heart condition, announced Monday that he will resign his seat on Dec. 6.
"My recent heart surgery brought into focus the need to spend as much time as I can with my wife and 3-year-old son and spend my prime working years providing the best possible life for my family," Zerwas said in a statement.
The decision will trigger a special election in the Elk River Republican's district, one of two needed before the Legislature reconvenes Feb. 11. Another election is required for the northeast Minneapolis district previously represented by Rep. Diane Loeffler, who died this month.
Zerwas was elected in 2012 and has been a prominent voice on a number of high-profile issues at the Capitol, from solitary confinement reform to calling for accountability and change in Department of Human Services programs.
Zerwas said he is most proud of his work as chief sponsor of a bill aimed at allowing terminally ill people to use experimental treatments and drugs. He joined President Donald Trump last year when the president signed a similar federal bill into law.
His interest in the issue was sparked by his personal experience with an experimental surgery to address his heart condition. Zerwas was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect as a child and wasn't expected to live past the age of 7. The 38-year-old has had numerous heart surgeries, including two during his years in the Legislature. He underwent routine heart surgery in October to replace his pacemaker.
"From the Right-to-Try Act that earned him national recognition and a visit to the White House, to his bipartisan work to reform solitary confinement laws, he has earned respect on both sides of the aisle, and we will miss his humor and wit," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.
Around the Capitol, Zerwas was also known for the well-stocked candy supply in his desk on the House floor.
In his first year — when Republicans were the minority in both chambers — Zerwas said he would put a handful of candy in his coat pocket and wander around handing people pieces and telling them about his bills. After a few weeks, legislators started coming to him looking for treats.
"The candy, although it's funny and it makes for a good joke, I think it symbolized my interest in physically reaching across the aisle," Zerwas said. "Whether it was to deliver sweets or work on policy together, that's where I had both the most success I had in the Legislature and quite honestly, the most fun."
He said he is not sure if his replacement will take up the practice, or who that person might be.
"Coming from my district, I'm confident we'll have a strong conservative candidate to continue to represent Big Lake and Elk River," said Zerwas, who has repeatedly won with a significant majority.
Within hours of Zerwas' announcement, Sherburne County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Paul Novotny said he would run for the seat. Novotny laid out a traditional conservative platform, saying he would fight for less obtrusive government, Second Amendment rights and life "from conception to natural death."
Zerwas said he is taking the holidays off, then will think about his next career steps. He previously served on the Elk River City Council and worked in Anoka County's crime lab and Target's forensics lab.
"I don't see any runs for office in my immediate future," he said, adding that he plans to focus on family and being a breadwinner. But, he added, "Years down the road, if there was an opportunity to become involved and serve my local community again, I would do that in a heartbeat."
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044