Skip to main content Skip to office menu Skip to footer
Capital IconMinnesota Legislature

Legislative News and Views - Rep. Dean Urdahl (R)

Back to profile

Transcript of Rep. Dean Urdahl’s retirement speech, issued May 20, 2024

Monday, May 20, 2024


Here is a link to the House video.


So, the time has come, a speech 22 years in the making.  I decided I wanted to be a legislator when I was 17 years old.  I well remember the first time I revealed that goal.  I was on a first date with a young lady.  We were waiting at a stop light in downtown Litchfield when I announced my intention.  It was our last date.

I went to St. Cloud State, became involved in student government, worked on the staff of Congressman John Zwach, and left college to become a teacher.  But the desire to serve here was always with me.

Teaching at New London-Spicer, I remained involved in politics at a volunteer level.  This led to many vivid experiences.  I convinced John Denver to sing at a Republican event, I met Ronald Reagan and asked a young man to take a picture of us shaking hands, the picture is of two hands shaking, that’s all.  I got to be near Richard Nixon at the 1972 National Convention. 

While I watched history being made, I was trying to explain history to my students.  To me history was a story and I was telling it.  I wanted them to learn, and I engaged my students to keep them interested.  I even wrote a history rap.

                        I’m a young D.U. with a story to tell

                        About U.S. history that you know so well

                        This course used to be just one half year

                        Then Ehresman said, lookey here.

                        These kids aren’t learning what they need to know

                        So teach a full year and they’ll get mo.

                        So we teach about peace and we teach about war

                        The people that died and the clothes they wore

                        But ya gotta move fast don’t talk or pester

                        Cause ya go young D.U. just one semester

                        Then some’ll get Dreier and some’ll get Friskey.

                        Ya better move fast or it’s gonna be riskey.

                        So do them worksheets and watch them tapes

                        Cause from U.S. History there ain’t no escape.

I came here 22 years ago, after losing two general elections and a primary.  I should have won in 1994 but a bipartisan legislative cabal had agreed to help each other out if challenged on a particular issue.

My campaign made an attack on the issue and a Republican house member, I forget who, but I think he might be the only Republican here with more years of service than me, wrote a letter to the editor against me.  I lost by 170 votes.

Once elected, my goal was not to move on to higher office or even to rise to a leadership position in my caucus.  What I wanted to do was to serve the people.  That was what I focused my energy on.  I spent ten years in the majority and twelve in the minority.

I was able to get some things done.  I believe students are safer in Minnesota because of my lock down bill.  I started the legislation for Livestock Tax Credits.  I hope that knowledge of civics will be enhanced due to my civics education requirements.

My bill as chair of the legacy committee started the restoration of our capitol, an achievement of which I am most proud. 

A large share of whatever legacy I leave has to do with capital investment, yes bonding.  I traveled the State looking at projects for twenty years.  It was a very rewarding experience.

I survived meatless lasagna in Willmar and riding in the back of the bus with my good friend, Rep. Leon Lillie.  What made this job meaningful were the people I served with.

I became convinced that it was our responsibility as legislators to maintain the property owned by the State.  That mantra has become a crusade.  I’m contemplating a special license plate, 007ING.

My LA’s started with Dave Easterday followed by many others, including Bobby Patrick the Sixth and Stephen Rubis.  The record holder in years of service as my LA is Jennifer Goblirsch.  The day I met her I said, “You have one major task, make me look good.”  It’s been a challenge for her and I’m grateful to her. She’s been a wonderful LA.

A special thank you has to be reserved for the staff that worked with me when I chaired or was lead of bonding.  Gavin Hanson, Harry Mericle and Chelsea Axelson were faced with a special task, keeping me in line.

Harry spied me talking in the retiring room to bonding chair, DFLer Alice Hausman, off to Kurt Daudt’s office.

I’ve had the privilege of working with many Speakers of the House, Steve Sviggum, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Paul Thiessen, Kurt Zellers, Kurt Daudt and Melissa Hortman. 

I’d like to thank them all for the opportunities they provided me.  Thank you, Speaker Hortman, you’ve been a friend.

The relationships I’ve developed here are precious to me.  Most everyone I served with I value.  I need to highlight some of my closest friends.  First, two from the past, Rep. Bud Heidgeken and Matt Dean. 

Bud formed the Nutrition Commission with me.  Our offices were next to each other.  Each night for six years I’d leave my office, poke my head in Bud’s and ask, “Well Bud, did we save the state today?”  He would answer, each night, “Not today, maybe tomorrow.”

Matt just kept getting me into trouble.  When he called an internationally famous author a “pencil necked weasel,” the press credited Dean Urdahl with the comment, not Matt Dean.

Paul Anderson, Greg Davids, John Petersburg and Mary Franson were devoted Nutrition Commission members and became my dearest friends.  I will miss my daily contact with them.  But without Paul my nutrition world will expand beyond chicken wings.

Mary had some troubled times early in her career.  I tried to advise and concluded with, “Just think about what I would do in those situations.”  For the next year she wore a wrist band to remind herself.  WWDD, what would Dean do.

That was a little risky.

Now, let me digress and maybe preach a little bit.  This place was fun when I got here.  I could literally count on one hand the number of bad days I had in the first ten years I served.  That changed.

When I was elected, I decided that three things should guide my vote, the three C’s, Conscience, constituents and caucus.  In that order.

In too many cases we now only have one C, the caucus, and it’s on both sides.  You don’t need to think, you’ll be told what to do.  Partisanship has grown as cooperation declined.

I am a center-right conservative.  That hasn’t always been good enough for my fellow Republicans.  I was  challenged by Republicans in some way 8 of the 12 times I sought office.  I won every time.

I am one of the last Eisenhower Republicans, I believe in human rights, equality, strong public education, a strong transportation system and taking care of our infrastructure.  I came here with only one goal, to represent my people to the best of my ability.

There are those in or on the fringes of my party who are not Republicans, they are attempting to take over my party and mold it into something else, something it never was.  They are the true RINOS.

I believe that we should have a March primary to preclude the capture of both parties from extremist elements.

I have been criticized for my work on infrastructure.  Last year, after the bonding bill passed, a high-level Senate Republican staffer called me a traitor and then really went low and referred to me as a “Democrat.”  Do you know what really offended me.  He skipped right over Rhino.

In part I do what I do to save the Republican Party from thinking like his.

It's not easy being a bonding lead, this year I’ve been called a liar, my motives and methods questioned and castigated, all by Republicans.   The job I do, is no longer for people like me.   

Someone less passionate about our infrastructure is needed to serve the caucus as they wish.  Shall we say someone less committed and more agreeable.

I stand now, and will continue to stand, on what formed the foundation of the Republican Party.  What the party really is.

I have two sons that work in or around the capitol.  Another son lives in a nearby suburb.  I used to joke that I would someday leave office to spend less time with my family.

That’s not true, I want to spend more time with my son’s families, watch my grandchildren and be more involved with them.

My wife, Karen, has stuck with me through ups and downs and all the travails of life.  She ran my campaigns, edited my books, worked on my movies, even painted houses with me.  Her imprint is on all that I’ve done.

Why am I retiring, when I know there is still much I could accomplish?  One reason, it’s not fun anymore.  But the bigger reason, Karen asked me to spend more time with her.  It simply became time to quit.

Thank you all for being a part of my life.  I treasure these 22 years and what I’ve been able to do and the relationships I’ve developed.

I leave you, especially freshman, with some advice.  Build relationships, keep your word, remember who sent you here and for Heaven’s Sake don’t ever say, “Would you yield for a question.”

Regarding your speeches, let me repeat one more time, be brief, be to the point, tell a story if you can.  I don’t want to burst your bubbles, but droning on is not effective.  No one is listening. 

As a teacher, I started each of my classes by saying, “What are you here for!”  My students would shout, “To Learn!”

I would respond, “And to help me take another step down the road to my eventual job as a. . .  My students would shout “Wal Mart Greeter.”

So, if you happen by the Litchfield Wal Mart, you can pause, point at me and say, “There he is, the last Eisenhower Republican.  He tried to do what he thought was right.”