Rep. Zerwas resigning seat to refocus career after heart surgery

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R- Elk River, hands out cookies
Rep. Nick Zerwas, R- Elk River, hands out cookies to fellow legislators toward the end of the session inside the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. on Sunday, May 20, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 10:35 a.m.

State Rep. Nick Zerwas will resign his legislative seat early next month, a move he said Monday will allow him to refocus his career after another heart surgery and allow him to better support his family.

Zerwas, R-Elk River, will depart Dec. 6 after serving seven years in the House. He called the time in office “the honor of my lifetime” but said he leaves without regret.

“My recent heart surgery brought into focus the need to spend as much time as I can with my wife and three-year-old son and spend my prime working years providing the best possible life for my family,” Zerwas said in a written statement. “It is not easy leaving a job that I absolutely love, but I’m able to depart on my own terms with no regrets and with optimism for what lies ahead.”

Zerwas, 38, underwent another heart surgery in October to replace a pacemaker. He was born with a congenital heart defect and wasn’t expected to survive childhood. Zerwas has undergone 11 heart surgeries in his life, including two while a legislator.

In an interview, Zerwas said there are no present concerns about his health.

“I’m healthy. I feel good,” Zerwas said. “And so I need to make sure I make the most out of feeling this good and being able to go to work. And it’s time to go to work.”

He said he expects to land a new job soon that draws on his experience. But he hasn’t yet signed on with a new employer.

He was first elected in 2012 after previously serving six years on Elk River’s city council.

"Rep. Zerwas has a list of accomplishments that have made Minnesota a better place, and whose impact will live on long after he departs the legislature,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt of Zimmerman.

Zerwas’ House resignation will force a special election to fill the seat, which is for a reliably Republican district. Another special election will be scheduled soon to fill the Minneapolis seat left open by the death of Rep. Diane Loeffler earlier this month. All 201 legislative seats will be on the November 2020 ballot, determining party control of the House and Senate for the following two years.

With a distinctive raspy voice and known for keeping a desk drawer full of candy on the House floor — he figures he’s dispensed 3 million calories worth of sugar; “it keeps people happy,” he said — Zerwas has several legislative accomplishments to his name.

He helped write a new law giving terminally ill patients access to experimental medication and another that changed how solitary confinement is done inside Minnesota’s prisons. He also sponsored a law allowing first-responders to cite post-traumatic stress disorder as a work-related illness.

Some other Zerwas initiatives grabbed headlines but fell short of becoming law. They include his bill to step up criminal penalties for blocking freeways or transit lines during protests. That reached Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk but fell to a veto.

Zerwas said while he’s making a move to relieve some time and financial pressures, he is leaving a job he thoroughly enjoyed behind.

“Public service should be a sacrifice. there should be a sacrifice in making sure you are getting the most-committed people step up to run,” he said. “But let’s not kid ourselves, the hours in the summer aren’t bad. And there are a lot of opportunities to experience throughout your career in the legislature that not many people get to experience.”

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