By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
After an 11-hour meeting of the state Senate’s Republican majority, area senators were exhausted but expressing confidence that they’d elected a leader who could carry them past the scandal-filled departure of previous Majority Leader Amy Koch and through a successful 2012 election year.
With the election of Rochester Sen. Dave Senjem and an entirely new slate of assistant leaders, Republicans closed the door on the one-year tenure of Koch, who resigned the top spot amid revelations she had an inappropriate relationship with a Senate staffer.
“There was an awful lot of discussion,” said Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Elysian, about Tuesday’s day-long meeting. “When you have something like that happen in mid-term, you have a lot to talk about. ... We had some healing to do. We wanted to understand a few things.”
DeKruif, Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont and Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca declined to identify who Senjem’s chief competitors were for the spot that is one of the three most powerful positions in state government, behind the governor and comparable to speaker of the House.
Senjem’s role includes not only influencing the agenda of the legislative session that begins next month but also leading the Republican effort to retain the majority they won in 2010 for the first time after nearly 40 years of Democratic dominance.
“It’s a lot more fun and a lot more productive to be in the majority, so we want that to continue,” Rosen said.
Senjem was heavily involved in recruiting candidates, raising money and setting strategy leading up to the 2010 GOP thrashing of Senate Democrats.
“We know that Sen. Senjem was part of getting all of us into the majority,” Parry said. “He worked hard. He worked long.”
That experience — and his reputation as an approachable leader who listens to all members and who can build consensus — made him an attractive choice, Rosen said.
“He just brings a lot to the table and just knows what it takes to make it click,” she said. “Because it’s all about relationships.”
Parry may have been more exhausted than anyone late Tuesday night because he was selected as interim chairman and led the nearly 12 hours of discussion at a Roseville hotel.
“I can’t remember when I’ve been this tired,” Parry said. “I can only say it’s a good tired. It’s a great feeling to see the caucus unified and ready to do the people’s business.”
Koch didn’t attend the post-meeting press conference, but she addressed the other 36 members of the Senate Republican Caucus during the closed-door session.
“It was difficult, heart-wrenching for all of us,” Rosen said. “... People make mistakes. She felt terrible about it, but she had a chance to address the caucus and apologize.”
DeKruif, a freshman, said Koch’s downfall made for a difficult two weeks for rank-and-file members of the Senate.
“It started out very confusing,” he said of Koch’s resignation as majority leader. “It went from confusing to disbelief. We went through a grieving process, and today we went through some healing.”
The process will continue to move fast. The legislative session begins Jan. 24. New legislative districts will be announced Feb. 21, putting all seats in the House and Senate on the ballot on Nov. 6. And as soon as the legislative session ends, probably in late April or early May, the re-election effort will begin in earnest.
“We’ll keep (the session) short and sweet and get out there campaigning,” Rosen said.