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Gazelka wants to move forward

Sen. Paul Gazelka was elected assistant majority leader after a 10 hour meeting

BAXTER — Tuesday’s 10-hour Republican Senate caucus meeting in Roseville, where Sen. Paul Gazelka was elected assistant majority leader, gave lawmakers a chance to “share from the heart” as well as plot political strategy, the first-term senator said.

Gazelka, 52, was part of an all new Senate leadership team that was elected Tuesday in the wake of former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch’s resignation. Koch stepped down after revelations surfaced she had an inappropriate relationship with a Senate staffer.

Elected to replace Koch as majority leader was Sen. Dave Senjem of Rochester. Elected as assistant majority leaders were Gazelka, Sens. Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes, Ted Lillie of Lake Elmo and Claire Robling of Jordan.

Reflecting on his election Wednesday morning at his State Farm Insurance office in Baxter, Gazelka said he believed his colleagues thought his experience would help bring people together as the Republicans move beyond the instability brought about by Koch’s sudden resignation. Gazelka said members of the previous leadership team all submitted their resignations and any of them who wanted to be considered for the posts again were allowed to run. He said the legislators wanted to take as much time as was needed so everyone had the opportunity voice their opinions

About a dozen lawmakers expressed interest in serving as assistant majority leader, Gazelka said. Senjem will appoint two more before the Legislature convenes in January. Gazelka said he received the 19 votes necessary for election on the second ballot.

“We really all agreed we needed a clean slate,” Gazelka said.

Election to leadership, Gazelka said, is an honor and a sign one’s peers hold someone in high regard. He said the new team represented a good mix of male and female and experienced lawmakers and freshmen.

“It’s an opportunity to help shape the direction that our Senate leadership goes,” he said.

Koch was described by Gazelka as a forceful person who still had a good relationship with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. He said she did a good job in achieving government reforms and not raising taxes. Gazelka said he and Senjem also have a good relationship with the governor but that doesn’t stop them from having strong opinions which are of a conservative bent. He said Senjem’s personality might be a little less confrontational than Koch’s.

Gazelka said he still considered Koch a friend and while she has said she intends to finish out her term as a senator Gazelka thought she was still sorting out what’s best for her family.

“We all make mistakes, sometimes very costly mistakes.” he said. “In the end we have to move forward.”

The fact that Koch came forward in “a fairly transparent process” would minimize the likelihood that there will be an ethics investigation, if she sticks with her decision to serve out her term.

“It’s not something I’m going to pursue,” he said.

He doesn’t think the revelation of an inappropriate relationship between Koch and a Senate staffer would damage the Republicans’ credibility as they support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Voters will decide the question in November of 2012.

Gazelka said he doesn’t link the two issues together.

“Marriage and family are never easy and never perfect,” he said. “Marriage is not about having perfect relationships.”

The duties of an assistant majority leader can be broad and are often determined by the role the majority leader wants a particular person to play, Gazelka said. One of the four assistant leaders elected Tuesday will be picked by Senjem to be the whip, the person often in charge of informally counting votes and shepherding legislation, he said. Other session duties of an assistant majority leader, Gazelka said include proclaiming the message of the Senate Republicans’ agenda and establishing expertise in a particular issue and monitoring related legislation. Outside of the session, Gazelka said the assistant majority leaders are asked to raise funds and recruit candidates.

A member of the newly formed Sunset Commission, which will scrutinize boards and decide whether they continue to serve a worthwhile purpose, Gazelka said he’s very interested in government reform. He also would like to unleash the private sector with legislation that would change the tax structure and reduce government red tape.

Gazelka’s election marks the first time a senator from District 12 has served in a leadership role or as a committee chair since Former Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, served as the eighth president of the Senate from Jan. 3, 2001 to Jan. 6, 2003. Samuelson was also chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860