Rep. Joe Atkins not seeking re-election

Shortly after he was first elected to the state House of Representatives, Joe Atkins, left, along with Mayor George Tourville, walked in the Inver Grove Heights Days Parade Food Drive.  (submitted photo)
Shortly after he was first elected to the state House of Representatives, Joe Atkins, left, along with Mayor George Tourville, walked in the Inver Grove Heights Days Parade Food Drive. (submitted photo)

Will instead run for open county commissioner seat

State Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, announced on Tuesday, Jan. 26 that he will not run for re-election in House District 52B this fall. That same day, he revealed he would instead run for the District 4 Dakota County commissioner seat being vacated by the retiring Nancy Schouweiler.

"It has been a true honor to represent the citizens of our area at the Capitol for the past 14 years," Atkins said in a released statement.

Atkins was first elected to the Minnesota House in District 52B in 2002. But his public service career dates back to when he served on the Inver Grove Heights School Board from 1987 to 1990. He said this experience gave him a perspective that proved beneficial while he was serving in the Legislature.

Atkins successfully ran for mayor of Inver Grove Heights when he was 26, and was the youngest mayor in the state at that time. He held the mayoral seat from 1992 to 2002.

When Dakota County Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler of Inver Grove Heights announced she was not running for another term, Atkins said he began to consider making a bid for her seat on the county board. District 4 represents portions of Inver Grove Heights, Eagan and Rosemount. 

Schouweiler served as commissioner for 18 years before announcing earlier this year that she was retiring. She was first elected in 1998 and was the first woman to serve as the board's chair. In her final year, Schouweiler will serve as board chair, the fourth time her fellow board members have chosen her for this position.

Attracted to nonpartisan politics

Many political observers had expected Atkins would run for either the congressional seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline or the state Senate seat being vacated by retiring DFL Sen. Jim Metzen of South St. Paul. 

Kline has been in the U.S. House since 2003, while Metzen has served four decades in the Legislature and held his Senate District 52 seat since 1987.

But Atkins, who is 50 and has a private law practice, said he was instead attracted to the nonpartisan nature of the county board. 

He explained that he has spent the past 14 years in an increasingly partisan environment in the Legislature and is looking forward to more of a consensus-building approach, which is something he did as mayor of Inver Grove Heights and while on the school board.

"In spite of the partisan divide, I've managed to pass more bipartisan laws over the last seven years than any other state representative," Atkins asserted. 

Issues at the county level are ones Atkins said he has a great deal of expertise on, including public safety and transportation. 

Unlike the state Legislature with 201 elected officials, the county board is made up of seven. "So when it comes to making decisions, you only have to convince three people, rather than 68 in the House and 34 in the Senate," Atkins said.

And while the House members have to run for office every two years and are paid just over $31,000 annually, the Dakota County commissioners serve four-year terms and earn over $74,00 per year.

Proud of legislative legacy

He said he is most proud of the state laws he authored to help police find missing children, protect public safety personnel and their families, toughen methamphetamine and sex offender laws, protect senior citizens from scams and more. Atkins said firefighters told him that one of the laws he helped passed to improve fire safety has saved 25 lives annually since 2009. This is something that has stuck with him.

Atkins said he is just as proud of the work done to help individual constituents like helping a local man get life-saving treatment denied by his insurer. "He had four more birthdays because I and some others were able to help him with that situation," Atkins said.

But not all of the recent news about Atkins has been positive. The Minnesota Job Coalition is alleging Atkins inappropriately benefited from funds from the nonprofit Inver Grove Heights BEST foundation, which provides college scholarships to Simley High School graduates. In the past few months, investigations and opponents have been exploring whether or not he benefited from the contributions gathered or the pay arrangement it had with the Inver Grove Heights School District. 

Atkins said he decided to make his announcement a month before precinct caucuses in order to give those considering serving in the Legislature time to make plans for the campaign season. 

Even though he has announced he's leaving his District 52B seat at the end of 2016, Atkins said his work in the Legislature is not done.

"There is plenty left to do this session. I plan to continue working hard to represent and assist the people of our area," Atkins said in the statement.

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or


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