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42-year legislator Metzen dies after cancer battle

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Longtime DFL state Sen. Jim Metzen has died after a battle with lung cancer.

The 42-year legislator from South St. Paul for a time served as Senate president. He died late Monday at age 72.

Metzen was known for an infectious laugh and affable way around the Capitol. Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said that demeanor helped build Metzen into an enduring figure.

"Jim Metzen was one of a kind. He was effective. People loved him. People are going to miss him," Hansen said. "As you go through politics, many people accumulate enemies. I don't think Jim did. Jim accumulated friends as the years went on. And that's what made him successful."

Metzen had been ailing during his final term, having announced this spring he wouldn't seek re-election to a Legislature he joined in 1974 with his election to the House. He moved up to the Senate in 1986 and won re-election eight times.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Metzen stood out.

"I’ll always remember Jim for his wonderful personality, his jokes and his nicknames for everyone," Bakk said. "Jim embodied the legislator that I think many of us strive to be like. He didn't allow partisanship to cloud his judgment of somebody."

Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith both issued statements of condolence and appreciation.

“Jim Metzen loved the Minnesota Senate, South St. Paul, hockey, and most of all his family," Smith said. "He represented his district with energy and commitment for 42 years. He was a great friend, and we will all miss him very much."

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said in a statement that Metzen was a great leader and good friend.

“Jim was a true public servant who fought tirelessly for the people of South St. Paul and his entire district,” Hann said. “His quick wit and natural charm often diffused the partisanship of the Senate.”

In his final years, Metzen served as chair of the Commerce Committee. Among his passions were legislative initiatives that fostered youth sports programs, including a new $10 million grant program to upgrade hockey arenas around the state. The program, bearing his name, launched on Monday with a state notice to potential grant applicants.

He is survived by his wife and two sons. Arrangements are pending.