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Retiring lawmakers different, but share some similarities

Keith Langseth has spent half of his nearly 75 years as a Minnesota legislator. Mark Murdock has been in the House less than four years.

Langseth is a Democrat. Murdock is a Republican. Langseth is a dairy farmer. Murdock is a long-time hardware store owner.

Despite differences, the two Minnesota legislators, among more than two dozen retiring this year, well illustrate the attitude of many lawmakers. Both talk about being involved in democracy and say they are in awe every time they enter the Capitol building.

Looking around the ornate House chamber, Murdock said he will most remember his two terms in the House because of "how this place is and what it stands for. This is our democracy, our freedom."

The 60-year-old Murdock, who does not sound like he will miss the Legislature so much, wants to spend more time with family. That was a driving force in his decision to retire.

When he decided to run for the state House, Murdock sold his Ace Hardware store to his son and daughter-in-law. Now, with three grandchildren younger than 3 in Perham and a 95-year-old mother in Owatonna, the Republican representative is going home to Ottertail to help with family.

"I am needed at home," he said. "Family comes first."

Murdock has been a quiet legislator, seldom talking on the House floor. He took to heart a fellow legislator's advice: "Lay back, watch, listen and learn."

He and Langseth agreed that the real work comes in committee meetings.

"I like working in committee to make sure the bills are right," Murdock said.

While Langseth indicated he has trouble trusting some Republicans, Murdock sounded similar when talking about Democrats.

"We agree with them and they vote against the bills," Murdock said.

He recalled crossing party lines and voting with Democrats on a bill that allows law enforcement officers to stop vehicles for seat belt violations.

"I really caught heck from the right," he said. "It is a mandate, but it saves lives."

While the Republican right did not like that vote, Murdock said since he joined the Legislature he has become more conservative after seeing government waste.

Murdock, whose only office before going to the Legislature was on the church parish council, said he learned "common sense goes a long ways here," but some colleagues do not have it.

He is vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee and has worked on those issues, but he may be best known (other than for wearing golf shirts) for passing manufactured home regulations.

"That was kind of my niche," he said.

Murdock, who can make the unusual claim that he still has a baby tooth, said people may not have an accurate picture of legislators. If the average Minnesotan thinks lawmakers are in the job to get rich and grab attention, Murdock said that is not true (lawmakers make little more than $30,000 a year). "People think we are overpaid, but that's Washington."

"It's not the glamorous life everyone thinks it is," he added. "I brought two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches today."