With nearly two full years to go before the 2018 General Election, the race for Minnesota Attorney General already has one declared contender.

Former state Rep. Ryan Winkler, a DFLer who represented Golden Valley for five terms in the House, said Wednesday that he had registered a campaign committee for the race. Winkler, who stepped down from the Legislature in 2015 after his wife accepted a job in Belgium, said in a statement that he is making plans to return home and launch his campaign. Winkler has divided his time between Belgium and Minnesota to keep up his work as general counsel for Biothera, a Minnesota-based biotechnology company, and said the time away has "strengthened my resolve to work for the values we share."

Winkler said he sees the attorney general as an important position from which he could tackle some of the issues he championed in the Legislature, from workers' reforms to sustainability. A native of Bemidji who attended Harvard College and the University of Minnesota Law School, Winkler served in the Legislature from 2007 to 2015.

"I'm interested in what other state attorneys general are doing to protect workers from wage theft, investigating big oil companies from their role in climate change — there's a broad set of issues related to civil rights and equity," he said.

The announcement comes with a caveat: Winkler said his committee filing isn't intended as a challenge to Attorney General Lori Swanson, a fellow DFLer who has been in office since 2007. Winkler praised Swanson's work and said she has been encouraged by "many Minnesotans" to seek a higher office. He said he wants to be ready to run for the seat, should Swanson make that decision, but won't run if she wants to stay.

Swanson said Wednesday that she was not aware of Winkler's announcement. While she said she has been encouraged to run for governor, Swanson hasn't made any decisions about the 2018 election — and declined to say when she planned to do so.

"I'm not even at the halfway point in this term," she said. "I think the country has just enormous campaign fatigue right now, and I'm going to focus all my effort and attention on serving Minnesotans as their attorney general."

Star Tribune staff writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790