After Five Terms, Don Betzold Exits State Senate
Being bested by rival Pam Wolf means the Fridley DFLer leaves his post as state Capitol's 'Rules Guy.'
State Sen. Don Betzold said he chalks up his loss to Republican Pam Wolf last month to an electorate with big worries about the economy and jobs.
"If it had been a banner DFL year I would have taken it personally," he said.
People in Senate District 51, which includes the east side of Fridley, will gain a new voice in Wolf, who challenged Betzold unsuccessfully four years ago.
Meanwhile, the state Senate will lose its "Rules Guy." That's the nickname Betzold says he earned after dedicating himself to learning the ways of the Senate over his five terms there.
His motto: Stay on the floor, pay attention, know the rules.
His expertise in legislative process earned him a seat next to a succession of DFL Senate majority leaders, from Roger Moe to Larry Pogemiller.
Pogemiller calls Betzold a "good man" and a "stabilizing, thoughtful legislator" who indeed served as an authority on Senate rules and took on complex, "non-glamorous" issues.
"He was my seatmate for the last four years," Pogemiller said. "He kept track of everything that was going on on the [Senate] floor. As majority leader, you need that. And he's got a very dry sense of humor."
DFL Sen.-elect Barb Goodwin of neighboring state Senate District 50, which covers the rest of Fridley, termed Betzold's departure "a serious loss.
"He will be sorely missed. Many Senators have commented about his expertise on issues, the legislative process and the state budget," Goodwin said via email. "He was also a great mentor for me during my recent campaign."
Betzold said he specialized in several areas, including civil law, pensions and data-practices. A highlight for Betzold was chairing the the Judiciary Committee for four years during his fourth term. "I loved it," said the Hamline University-educated lawyer.
Betzold says he won't miss what he termed an often "brutal" cycle of tough legislative sessions and hard campaigns. The time away from his law practice each year finally made it next to impossible for him to keep up his legal work. Losing an election meant a chance to be a lawyer again. He didn't waste time cleaning out his senate office.
"I was out of there within a week," Betzold said. "I was back in court in days."
Betzold laid the groundwork for his Senate career in Fridley, where he has lived since 1980. He volunteered on others' campaigns, chaired 49er Days, served on the city's planning commission and by 1990 had set his sights on replacing state Sen. Don Frank, a DFLer from Spring Lake Park. Betzold lost his primary challenge that year by 200 votes, then tried again to defeat Frank in 1992 and succeeded.
Without moving his residence, Betzold has represented three very different districts over the years due to redistricting boundary changes. The northern half of Fridley, all the way to the river, used to be his. Now his district lies east of University Avenue, taking in parts of Spring Lake Park and Mounds View and most of Blaine.
It's the Blaine end of the district that Betzold said has "grown rapidly in the wrong direction." The more northerly and conservative areas experienced a residential boom while the more DFL-leaning southern end has experienced stability or even declining population.
Would he run again if redistricting based on the 2010 Census were to produce a district more suited to electing him?
"I had an 18-year run," Betzold said. "I can do the work at the Legislature, clearly. But do I have the campaigns left in me?"
Another prospect for returning to public service would be to get a job with the incoming administration of Gov.-elect Mark Dayton. But he's not joining those job-seekers he says are "inundating" Dayton with resumes: "They know who I am."