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Fiery Iron Range Rep. Tom Rukavina announced Friday he will retire from the Legislature after 26 years.

"The changing atmosphere at the Capitol has helped expedite my decision," Rukavina wrote in a letter. "I recall a kinder and gentler time here when even the most conservative members of our body still believed government could do good things for our people. But times have changed and I haven't so it's time for a new direction."

Rukavina, a DFLer from Virginia, has been known as a pint-sized powerhouse around the Capitol, renowned for impassioned floor speeches and strong ties to the labor movement. He has flirted with runs for higher office, including jumping into the last governor's race. Rukavina gave an electrifying floor speech at the DFL state convention that momentarily shook up the race. During the campaign, he passed out underwear with the words "Refreshingly Honest" emblazoned on the backside.

"I've tried to do what I could in order to make life better for the people of the Iron Range and Northeastern Minnesota," Rukavina wrote in the letter. "I leave with a heavy heart on one hand; but I also leave with the hope that the legislators who remain will come together to do good things for the people of Minnesota."

At the Capitol, Rukavina's interests were never far from labor issues or measures to job-creation on the Iron Range. In recent years, he has been the ranking Democrat on the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee. He also served on the capital investment, taxes and ways and means committees.

Rukavina, 61, has been a full-time legislator for years. He also serves as chairman of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

"No one has more passion and heart in standing up for the 'little guy' and for being a champion for his home area of the Iron Range," said IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich, who served with Rukavina in the House. "Over the past 26 years, Tom fought hard for every person and every community that he represented through his public service."