Rep. Atkins won’t seek re-election, eyes Dakota Co. post

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, declared his candidacy Tuesday for a Dakota County Board post along with his upcoming departure from the Legislature.

The seven-term lawmaker is a prominent player at the Capitol. When Democrats were in the majority, he chaired the House Commerce Committee.

Both the House seat and the county board slot are on the November ballot, so Atkins had to choose his path. He said he is looking forward to running for a position where people serve without partisan labels. He would replace Nancy Schouweiler, who isn’t running again.

“With caucuses just a few weeks away, I figured I better alert people to the fact that I’m not going to be on the ballot for the House of Representatives this fall, but I’m going to be running for county board,” Atkins said, adding. “I never really got comfortable with party politics. I figured out a way to function in it.”

By leaving the Legislature, Atkins would also deliver another seniority blow to the area he represents. On Saturday, state Sen. Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul said his 42nd year at the Capitol would be his last.

The route from state lawmaker to the county board isn’t uncommon. Former Republican state Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, GOP state Sen. Chris Gerlach and DFL state Sen. Linda Higgins are recent examples. County board positions typically pay several times more the $31,140 salary that state legislators earn in roles deemed to be part time.

Atkins is an attorney and has been involved in several notable issues in recent years. He was the chief House sponsor of the bill that established the MNsure health insurance exchange. He also steered bills related to cell phone contracts, steps to make retrieving unclaimed assets easier and changes to the way the Minnesota Lottery operates.

Last year, he weighed a run for the Minnesota 2nd Congressional District seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. John Kline but decided not to go forward.

In recent weeks, he’s come under fire for his relationship with an area scholarship program that relied on donations from interests with Capitol connections and which has resulted in scholarships for his own children. Atkins said that played no role in his decision.