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McNamara says his best work was helping constituents

Minnesota state Rep. Denny McNamara of Hastings, left, shares a laugh with long-time Republican activist and House staffer Gregg Peppin Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, before the 2015 legislative session begins. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, is finishing up the last half of his final year in the state legislature. Although he had filed for re-election in May, he announced June 1 that he would withdraw his name and retire from elected office.

McNamara was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2002, after running for a seat left open by redistricting. He had worked in the landscape industry before that, doing contractor work for more than 20 years at Hoffman and McNamara Nursery and Landscape in Hastings. He also served on the Hastings Natural Resources and Recreation Commission, an advisory commission to the City Council, he said. It was a combination of his career and his civic service that led him to run for election.

As a landscape professional, McNamara got involved in lobbying efforts on behalf of Nursery Landscape Association. Seeing success there, he figured after 20-some years he was ready to take on a new role. He never expected it to turn into a 14-year career.

Since his initial election, McNamara has been re-elected every two years for the past seven terms. When he finishes this term in December, he’ll have completed 14 years in the legislature.

He’s made good use of his time, serving on multiple committees, including the Environment Policy and Oversight Committee, Ways and Means Committee, Finance subcommittees for the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division and the Housing Finance and Policy and Public Health Finance Division. He is a former minority whip and current member of the Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee, Transportation Policy and Finance Committee and Ways and Means Committee. He is the current chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees.

As a lawmaker, he championed several environmental bills. He drove an effort to lower student fees associated with construction of the University of Minnesota football stadium while also getting a land donation at U More Park that resulted in the protection of nearly 3,000 acres – now known as Vermillion Highlands. He worked alongside Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, to see a solid median installed on the stretch of Highway 61 just north of the Hastings bridge. He co-authored a bill that, if approved, would require all nonflushable products in the state to carry a “do not flush” label. When the state faced the debate over the definition of marriage, McNamara voted to keep the definition of “one man, one woman” in Minnesota. And that’s just a small sample of the work he’s done for Minnesota.

But as McNamara looks back on his career, he said his proudest work, “the coolest work I ever got to do,” he said, has been representing his constituents – especially those who find themselves being treated unfairly by “the system.”

He recalled one Hastings resident who was living in a recreational vehicle outside her house because a water leak had made the home uninhabitable. The insurance adjuster, however, denied that the damage was fully reimbursable. McNamara went to bat, reaching out to the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the insurance company to see the situation resolved and the home rebuilt.

“I have no idea what would’ve happened if I hadn’t talked to them,” McNamara said.

He’s also made a point of working across the aisle to make sure that certain bills get the support they need. The Vermillion Highlands project was a major bipartisan effort, he said.

“You don’t do stuff like that without bipartisan support,” he said.

Being able to work with those in the opposing party is one of the key traits legislators need, he said.

“You have to be able to come together,” he said.

Gaining bipartisan support isn’t getting any easier, though.

“I think the legislative process is becoming much more partisan,” McNamara said, as minority members often are focused on regaining the majority rather than recognizing the different roles they have and the successes they can gain in that position.

Moving on

McNamara will continue to serve through December this year on the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. Afterwards, he plans simply to spend more time with his wife, Lynne, their children and grandchildren.

“I’m done working,” he said.

The whole family has been supportive throughout his legislative career, especially his wife.

“What my wife Lynne’s given up over the past 14 years is tremendous,” McNamara said.

Although he said he’ll miss the people he’s gotten to know at the legislature and getting to help constituents, McNamara said he’s looking forward to being a bigger part of his grandchildren’s lives. It was his 4-year-old grandson who inspired him to hang up his hat this year. Over Memorial Day weekend, he said, he went fishing with his grandson and realized he was ready for more of those moments.