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GOP to pick Minn. Senate leader by month's end

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Senate Republicans plan to pick a new majority leader by the end of December after their chief stepped down unexpectedly.

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Majority Leader Amy Koch stunned her fellow senators Thursday by announcing she would step down as majority leader and won't seek reelection to the Legislature next year.

Deputy Majority Geoff Michel was elevated to top post on an interim basis. He said caucus bylaws require an election within two weeks. No candidates for the job had declared their intentions as of Friday morning.

Koch, of Buffalo, was the leader for one year after the GOP reversed decades of Democratic rule in the Senate. Republicans have a 37-30 majority.

Koch told The Associated Press that the decision was hers alone and that she was not pushed out by colleagues. She said the 2010 election cycle, in which she led a Republican takeover of the Senate, and the subsequent budget clash with Gov. Mark Dayton were "intense" and made it difficult to spend time with her high school-age daughter.

"It's exhausting work, and I'm ready for somebody else to give it a try," Koch said.

She was a face of the party during last spring and summer's protracted standoff with Dayton, which finally ended after a 20-day partial government shutdown. She was new to her leadership post after spearheading the effort to recruit a slate of GOP candidates who knocked out many Democratic incumbents in 2010 and gave Republicans control of the Senate for the first time in nearly four decades.

Koch, 40, was the first female majority leader in the state Senate's history. She said her first decision was to not seek reelection in 2012, and that she decided to leave her leadership post so as not to be a "lame duck" in the legislative session that starts Jan. 24.

In a statement from his office, Dayton said he personally regrets Koch's decision to step down.

"She has been an excellent leader of her caucus and, while we often disagree, a strong advocate for her beliefs," Dayton said.

Some of Koch's colleagues said they were taken by surprise.

"I was not aware that she was considering this," said Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge. "I met with her yesterday on an unrelated matter and she gave no hint then."

Nienow said he recalled Koch making offhand comments leading up to, and during the government shutdown of feeling overwhelmed by the demands of the job. "But everyone says stuff like that in the heat of battle, battle fatigue," he said.

Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, who is a member of Koch's leadership team, said she called him earlier Thursday to share her decision; he declined to discuss specifics of their conversation.

"She's very well-respected and did a great job putting us through some tough times," Magnus said.

Potential successors include Michel of Edina and Sens. David Hann of Eden Prairie and Dave Senjem of Rochester, both of whom challenged Koch for the post last December. None of the three responded to phone messages left by The Associated Press.

Koch was first elected to the Senate in a 2005 special election, and represented a district centered in Wright County, west of the Twin Cities. A Buffalo native, she served in the U.S. Air Force and worked as a Russian linguist with the National Security Agency in the 1990s, before moving back to work with her family's utility business.

Koch said her intention after her terms ends is to seek new private-sector opportunities. Previously mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for Congress or statewide office, she said she wouldn't close the door for good on future political endeavors but doesn't expect to run for anything else soon.

___

Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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