Two high-profile Minnesota legislators with disabilities are looking at changing roles. Rep. John Kriesel (R-Cottage Grove), a military veteran who worked on legislative issues important to Minnesota’s disability community, has decided to not seek a second term in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Rep. Torrey Westrom, (R-Elbow Lake), the state’s first blind state legislator, has announced he is running for an open seat in the Minnesota Senate.
Westrom, who holds a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law, was elected to the Minnesota House in 1996 at age 23. He is in his eighth House term and chairs the Civil Law Committee, Westrom lost his sight in an accident at age 14. While serving in Iraq in 2006, Kriesel lost his legs in a roadside bombing. Kriesel is a double amputee and wrote a book about his war and medical ordeal. Kriesel made his announcement not to seek a second term on March 12 on Twin Cities sports radio station KFAN.
In his retirement announcement letter, Kriesel cited a desire to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife Katie and two young sons, ages 10 and 11. “My military career was very tough on my family, and while being a state representative pales in comparison, it still causes additional strain at home,” he stated. “Juggling my job at the capitol, my job working for the National Guard and still giving my wife and sons the time they deserve has become increasingly difficult. As parents we get only a few precious years with our children before they grow up and move out of the nest. I want to make sure that I am around for my sons during this very impressionable time in their lives.”
Kriesel went on to describe his wife as “amazing” for all of the time she has put in during his military service and legislative service. He noted it is his turn to “step up at home” so that she can pursue her career dreams. Last session Kriesel work with amputee rights’ groups on legislation to gain better insurance coverage for those who need artificial limbs. He has also worked on a number of other bills related to veterans’ programs and the new Vikings football stadium.
In 2011 he went against the Republican Party and opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He has since allied himself with a statewide group that is working to defeat the measure in November.
“I wanted to prove to people that you could be just a regular dude, a regular hardworking guy and be able to come in here and make a difference,” he said. “I feel like I’ve made a difference and hopefully showed people, young people, that you can get involved, you can make a difference.”
It’s been amazing. Every day I walk in here … it feels almost like a dream,” he said. “It’s something I’ll look back on fondly and I’m glad I did it.”