State legislators who have been at the center of some of Minnesota's most contentious battles over the past couple decades — from building a new Vikings stadium to renovating the State Capitol and replacing a troubled vehicle licensing system — are spending their final year in St. Paul.

So far a quarter of Minnesota lawmakers have said they do not plan to return to the Legislature in 2023, a dramatic but not unusual level of turnover for the year following the once-a-decade redistricting process that shakes up legislative boundaries.

What has some state leaders worried, however, is how many key negotiators are making their Capitol exit at a moment of deep partisan divides.

"We're losing some serious … almost centrist members that just want to do good work," said Sen. Tom Bakk, an Iron Ranger and Independent from Cook who is retiring after almost three decades. "Most people don't come here with that attitude, you kind of learn that. But there is fewer of them, which is going to make it hard."

The ebb and flow of the state's 201 legislators often goes unnoticed by most Minnesotans, but their ability — or lack thereof — to reach agreements large and small directly affects communities. The cumulative experience of departing state lawmakers adds up to more than 500 years, and with that goes across-the-aisle trust and relationships that have taken years to develop.

The exodus of so many dealmakers is "a big concern," said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-Falcon Heights, who is retiring after 33 years in the House.

The DFL controls the state House, and Republicans have the majority in the Senate. But the balance of power could change after the November election.

For minority-party legislators, the trust of colleagues in the majority is particularly critical to get something accomplished, Hausman said. When Republicans controlled the House a few years back, she said, she worked "hand in glove" with GOP Rep. Dean Urdahl on an infrastructure funding package. He stopped by her desk several times a day and even sent her to negotiate with Senate Republicans, she said.

"The culture has changed," Hausman said. "There's so much now about the last-minute deal — 'We're going to hold everything together and wrap it all up in a last-minute deal and that gives the leader more power.' It's not working. It's hurting our state and our nation. We have some of the same issues here as Washington does."

Bakk also sees Washington's divisiveness reflected in the halls of the State Capitol. While Hausman faults legislative leadership, he points to the influence of a small cluster of party delegates who can make or break a legislative career.

The former leader of the Senate DFL, Bakk left the party a couple years ago and became an Independent who caucuses with Republicans. He said that has provided an inside view into how both parties operate.

"They are not that much different. They are all scared to death of their precinct caucus attendees, their local convention delegates," Bakk said, pointing to two Democrats who suffered primary defeats after failing to get endorsed in the last election and two Republican lawmakers facing a similar situation this year.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are voting for things they know will never become law — like the GOP's repeated attempts last year to end Gov. Tim Walz's pandemic emergency powers — because they appeal to the "very narrow" group of Minnesotans who are critical to their re-election, Bakk said.

"That's the big challenge going forward. … It feels like every election cycle you get one or two more strong ideologues, both parties. But at the end of the day leaders have to close a deal," Bakk said. "If you get too many of them in your caucus that are unwilling to compromise, and you are in the majority, how do you get it done?"

Many in the Capitol orbit point to Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, as one of the Legislature's foremost negotiators. She is retiring after a career spent weaving together consensus on issues from the Vikings stadium to public pension reform and combating opioid addiction.

Rosen also is at the center of budget deals as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Most of the members of that prominent committee, largely made up of senior senators, are leaving — as is Rosen's counterpart on the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul.

"Those are the people that are the ones that stitch together the entirety of the state budget," said Gary Carlson, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities who has been around the Capitol for decades and has been tracking departure announcements.

For those stepping into the open leadership positions next year, understanding and respect will be essential to overcome political differences, said retiring Senate Transportation Committee Chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

At the height of COVID-19, when few lawmakers were at the Capitol, Newman called his DFL counterpart, House Transportation Committee Chair Frank Hornstein of Minneapolis, and suggested they meet ahead of difficult negotiations. He drove an hour to Hornstein's district, where they sipped coffee in a park and talked about their values and what they hoped to accomplish.

"It's really hard to be disrespectful or unkind or angry with somebody you have sat down and had a cup of coffee with," Newman said. "We've gone through some tough negotiations and never an angry word has ever been spoken."

Successful negotiators understand the players and their perspectives and have backups in mind for their first proposal, said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis. They have an idea for a second and third proposal.

"They know that it will all be here for another day, and I can't generally blow everything up and walk away because tomorrow I may be working with you on a different topic," Davnie said. "Although the blow-up theater is always a part of it."

Davnie, who leads the Education Finance Committee and is retiring after 22 years, said he was encouraged by the work of younger legislators such as DFL Reps. Emma Greenman of Minneapolis and Dave Pinto of St. Paul. "We're leaving the place in good hands," he said.

He said he hopes the high level of turnover will lead to a Legislature that is more racially and ethnically reflective of the state. The House has become more diverse over the past couple of elections, he said, giving the body a more comprehensive understanding of the state and influencing the policies it passes.

But Davnie also is one of several lawmakers who said they are concerned by the decline in DFL lawmakers representing greater Minnesota and GOP legislators from the metro area. The state is governed best if both parties understand and represent the various perspectives of different parts of the state, he said.

Rep. Paul Marquart, from the small northwestern city of Dilworth, is among the outstate Minnesota Democrats leaving this year. He is chair of the House Tax Committee and, like Davnie, has been around the Capitol since 2000. While he worries about partisanship, Marquart said he is confident people will continue to find compromise.

"It's a good institution," he said. "And the institution is bigger than any of us."

Correction: A previous version misstated the total number of legislators in Minnesota.