ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Mark Ritchie, the Minnesota secretary of state who steered the state through contentious back-to-back election recounts, said Tuesday he won’t run for a third term next year.
Ritchie, a Democrat, said he’d leave office when his current term expires at the end of 2014. His decision set off a flurry of potential replacements from both parties for the high-profile post, which includes chief responsibility for managing Minnesota’s elections.
Ritchie, 61, said it was a difficult decision made after months of consideration and discussion with his family. He said in an interview that he wanted to clear the way for younger leaders.
“From my perspective, if I’d stayed and been honored with another re-election, I would have left office nearer to 70 than 65,” Ritchie said. “It seemed like the right time to make way for the next generation.”
Ritchie touted accomplishments that included maintaining Minnesota’s tradition of the highest voter turnout in the nation and promoting the state’s history and public service. But he said he was most proud of navigating the successive statewide recounts: the 2008 contest between Sen. Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman, and the 2010 standoff between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Tom Emmer.
“I am proud to say that my colleague secretaries of state from around the country, Democrats and Republicans both, watched our recounts closely and were amazed with our careful and sophisticated approach,” Ritchie said.
Still, Ritchie was frequently targeted by Republican criticism — particularly during the Franken-Coleman recount, which dragged on into a lawsuit contesting the election results. Franken was finally seated the summer following the election after securing a 312-vote win. Ritchie also earned wrath from some Republicans for his opposition in 2011 and 2012 to the failed constitutional amendment that would have required a photo ID to vote in Minnesota.
Ritchie won the seat in 2006 by beating incumbent Republican Mary Kiffmeyer.
The open seat is sure to spark a competitive contest, as Republicans look for chances to break up the current Democratic dominance of statewide elected positions. Both Dayton and Franken are up for re-election in 2014.
One possible Democratic successor immediately joined the race. Rachel Larson Bohman of Rochester, a one-time elections official in both Anoka and Hennepin counties, said she would register her campaign Thursday. Bohman previously worked in the secretary of state’s office under both Kiffmeyer and Democrat Joan Growe.
Other Democrats considering a run include two current state representatives, Steve Simon of Hopkins and Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley; state Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth; and a former state representative from Chisago County, Jeremy Kalin.
Republicans who may jump in are: state representatives Pat Garofalo of Farmington, Joyce Peppin of Rogers, state Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove and Kent Kaiser, a former deputy to Kiffmeyer when she was secretary of state.
Kiffmeyer, now a state senator, is said to be considering a run for the 6th Congressional District seat recently left vacant by Michele Bachmann.
Ritchie said he would not get involved in the race to be his successor and said he thinks there are “promising candidates” from both parties. He said a major task for his successor would be to reconcile the potential for technology to change the way people vote with the continuing need to keep accurate election records.
In addition to running elections, the secretary of state’s office is in charge of registration for all Minnesota businesses.
Previously a farm policy analyst, Ritchie’s main prior political experience before becoming secretary of state was running a national voter turnout campaign in 2004.
Ritchie, who lives in Minneapolis, said he hoped to remain in public service when his term ends but wasn’t sure in what capacity.
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