Minnesota State Rep. Joe Atkins said Thursday he is passing on a run for Congress, but that he has his eye on another undisclosed open seat.

“The key factor in my decision, quite simply, is where can I do the most good for the most people?” said Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, citing his bipartisan work on law enforcement, education and healthcare. Longtime GOP Rep. John Kline announced last month that he would not run for re-election in the Second Congressional District in 2016. Atkins said he received widespread encouragement to run in the swing district.

“I had no idea so many people with 202 area codes had my phone number,” Atkins said. “I got so many calls from so-called political professionals in Washington D.C. and the concerted message was that I could and would win if I wanted to run in the Second Congressional District.”

DFLers Angie Craig and Mary Lawrence have already joined the race.

Atkins wouldn’t say which open seat he is considering, but said it’s not the one held by his district’s Senator, DFLer Jim Metzen of South St. Paul, who is undergoing treatment for a recurrence of lung cancer. Atkins said Metzen told him Thursday that he intends to run for re-election.

Asked if he is considering a seat for governor, Atkins said “That’s a great question, I’m thinking about running for another open seat but I’m not prepared...I’ve not decided.”

Defending MNsure

Atkins, who was chief House author of the bill that created MNSure defended the state's health insurance exchange while acknowledging that rate hikes of 14 to 49 percent were “obscene.”  He deflected renewed calls from Republicans to abolish the beleaguered system for the federal exchange.  

“This is an ‘I told you so moment’ for MNSure,” Atkins said. “MNsure will literally be the only place where Minnesotans in the next year will be able to get lower prices for health insurance."

Asked to clarify why it’s an "I told you so" moment in the wake of steep increases, Atkins conceded the rates are “outrageous and obscene,” but the only place to conceivably see a reduction is through MNSure.

“The spinmeisters…will attribute the rate hikes to MNSure somehow,” he said. “The reality…is that the only place you will see a reduction to those outrageous rate is across the individual market.”

Atkins said he never expected rates to decrease because of more Minnesotans with preexisting conditions and a lack of lifetime caps. Enhanced competition and tax credits drive rates down—and the only place to find both is MNSure.   He conceded he was wrong when he estimated two years ago that 1.3 million Minnesotans would get their healthcare through MNSure—currently nearly 357,000 are on the exchange—and that Minnesotans could save up to $1 billion.

“I was certainly wrong about the number that would enroll,” he said, but added that he expects more to join because it’s the only place for tax credits and competition.

Atkins revealed his decision during a news conference to tout efforts by him and Metzen to reunite their constituents with unclaimed money by the state. That includes Denny Hecker, the auto dealer-turned swindler serving a federal prison term. Thousands of dollars owed him will instead be directed to his victims through a trustee, Atkins said. The state holds $711 million in unclaimed funds.