The legacy of Sen. James Metzen, dead at 72

- Longtime DFL South St. Paul Senator James Metzen has lost his long battle with lung cancer.  The Minnesota Senate said he died Monday night.  Sen. Metzen was 72.

Metzen started his political career as a South St. Paul city council member at the age of 23.  He was later elected to the state legislature in 1974 and was reelected to the House ten times.  Metzen later ran for the state senate in 1986 where he has served ever since.   His fellow senators elected him to the position of senate president, a position he held from 2003 until 2011.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said, “I’ll always remember Jim for his wonderful personality, his jokes and his nicknames for everyone.” Bakk added, “Jim embodied the legislator that I think many of us strive to be like.”

Governor Dayton said of Metzen, “Senator Jim Metzen was a great DFL leader and a wonderful human being. He served well his senate district and the State of Minnesota.”

Metzen was known for his long time support of hockey, especially his sponsorship of the Mighty Ducks Grant Program that now bares this name.  The grant program provides money, $2.2 million in 2015, to develop new youth ice arenas, improve indoor air quality in ice arenas, and eliminate the use of R-22 refrigerant.

In the Senate, Metzen was known for his low-key, easy going style and personality. Senate rules require all men entering the chambers to wear a tie, and to ensure everyone complied by the rules, Metzen kept a collection of ties in his office.  In fact, this ill-dressed reporter was once offered one of the Senator’s ties by the sergeant at arms in order to prevent my ejection from the floor.

It’s that style earned praise today from Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann. Despite the fact that the two senators come from different political parties, Hann called Metzen a good friend.  “His quick wit and natural charm often diffused the partisanship of the Senate and helped us focus on what is important – improving people’s lives,” said Hann in a statement.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, also praised Metzen’s leadership.  “South St. Paul lost a strong voice for their community last night in Senator Jim Metzen,” said Daudt.

His legislative style brought praise from DFL Chairman Ken Martin. ”Jim’s constituents and colleagues will remember him for his world view, which proved that by working together, we can accomplish anything,” said Martin in a statement.  “Statesmen like Sen. Jim Metzen are few and far between. His unique approach to public service and what government can and should do will be missed."

Senator Metzen’s legislative career faced scrutiny in 2004, when the Fox 9 Investigators shot undercover video of lobbyists and lawmakers drinking in his office on the last night of the legislative session.  The alcohol was provided by lobbyists. While Metzen himself was never observed drinking, the reporting fostered increased scrutiny over the legislature and its cozy relationship with lobbyists.

Metzen announced his decision not to seek a 9th term in the Senate before this year’s legislative session began. At a retirement celebration this winter, Metzen was honored by the likes of former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, along with Lt. Governor Tina Smith and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Metzen is survived by his wife, Sandie, and two adult sons.

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