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Ramstad won't run in '08

Jim Ramstad likes to tell people he made his first political convention appearance 51 years ago, and it was enough to hook him. Ramstad, who Monday announced at a new conference that he would not seek a ninth two-year term in the U.S. House, regu...

Jim Ramstad likes to tell people he made his first political convention appearance 51 years ago, and it was enough to hook him.

Ramstad, who Monday announced at a new conference that he would not seek a ninth two-year term in the U.S. House, regularly recalls that as a 10-year-old he pulled his little red wagon - plastered with campaign signs - across the stage of the North Dakota state Republican convention in his hometown of Jamestown, N.D.

A photo of the wagon episode was featured last year when friends threw the moderate Republican a 60th birthday party.

Ramstad, who succeeded in politics while fighting his addiction to alcohol, confessed that 17 years of commuting between Minnesota and Washington had worn him out. He said he is ready to spend more time close to home, helping other addicts and maybe teaching a few classes.

"Now it's my time to do something else," he said.


He added: "I'm burned out. I'm tired. I still have the passion for policy-making, I still have the passion for politics. But I want to be home."

Ramstad's first political speech came during a North Dakota Boys' State convention at North Dakota State University. He later went to Boys' Nation, where he got to know future President Bill Clinton.

Ramstad graduated from the University of Minnesota and earned his law degree from George Washington University in Washington.

The 61-year-old politician was first elected in 1990 after serving a decade in the Minnesota Senate. As a representative of the western Twin Cities suburbs, Ramstad is known as a moderate, someone willing to vote against fellow Republicans.

The representative has worked across party lines not only for legislation, but also for one of his personal causes - fighting alcoholism. Some Republicans criticized him when he came to the aid of Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Sen. Edward Kennedy's son, when he was charged with drunken driving after a highly publicized arrest.

Ramstad and Kennedy are working together to pass a bill expanding mental health insurance coverage U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn, championed before his 2002 death.

North Dakota roots

Ramstad is one of two North Dakota natives serving the Twin Cities to leave Congress recently. Rugby native Rep. Martin Sabo, a Democrat, retired last year. That leaves GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, born in Minot, as the only North Dakota native representing other states in Congress.


Ramstad has been one of the most popular Republicans in Minnesota over the years. At the 2006 state party convention, for instance, he was mobbed by GOP fans as he tried to make his way to a luncheon. He could barely take a step without someone stopping him to shake his hand or to tell a story.

"You can never know too many good people," he said. "My family taught me that back in Jamestown."

Ramstad said his biggest accomplishment would be legislation that has yet to pass Congress - a plan to require equal health insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses, when policies include both. Ramstad said it's a "life or death issue to millions of Americans," and predicted the bill will become law.

Last year, Ramstad said one "silver lining" to the Democrats winning both houses of Congress was the increased chances of passing the bill, known as mental health parity.

Ramstad's voting record has been relatively liberal on social issues such as abortion, and more conservative on fiscal issues. He has opposed oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Making wayRamstad said he decided to retire last month and announced it Monday to give candidates time to start their campaigns. He said Republicans should not assume the district is safe, noting that it currently has more Democratic state legislators than Republicans.

"This will be a wide-open race," he said.

Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said he expected up to two dozen GOP and DFL candidates to consider the once-in-a-generation chance to run for an open seat in Congress.


Many of the potential candidates were mulling the unexpected possibility as the news spread.

On the Democratic side, DFL Party activist Buck Humphrey, former federal prosecutor Andy Luger and state Rep. Melissa Hortman said they were considering it. State Sen. Terri Bonoff declined to outline any plans, saying it would be "disrespectful and premature" to do so on the day of Ramstad's announcement.

Republicans who were considering the prospect included state Sens. David Hann and Geoff Michel and former state Rep. Jeff Johnson. Andy Brehm, a law school student and former spokesman for Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said he hadn't thought about it yet. State Reps. Kurt Zellers and Erik Paulsen and former state Sen. David Gaither didn't immediately return phone messages.

Carey said the GOP will hold an endorsing convention on April 12. He conceded that keeping the seat in Republican hands won't be a "slam dunk." Ramstad said he has no plans to endorse a candidate for his seat.

Ramstad also serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

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