Sen. Paul Koering's announcement that he was gay made the former St. Mathias dairy farmer the focus of statewide media attention for a few days in mid-April.

In an emotional interview in his St. Paul office, the Fort Ripley Republican said inquiries about his sexual preference were taking up an increasing amount of his time and hampering his legislative work. His announcement followed a procedural vote in which he was the only Senate Republican to oppose an unsuccessful measure to force a floor vote on the Defense of Marriage Act.

Koering is believed to be the only openly gay elected Republican in Minnesota.

He said on the rare occasion when anyone asked him if he were gay he told them the truth. Few people asked, he said.

"I've always felt like my personal life is just that - personal," he said in April. "I don't feel like I ever lied to anyone. I never deceived anyone."

Although Koering received support from many of his backers, his announcement didn't sit well with everyone.

Brian D. Lehman, chair of the Crow Wing County Republican Party at the time, predicted Koering's sexual orientation could cause him political problems.

"If his personal preference for the homosexual lifestyle sways his vote incorrectly and against the Republican Party platform, then I would take issue with that and I think other people on the (county) executive committee might take issue with that and citizens in Crow Wing County and District 12."

Days after his announcement Koering said in an interview that future candidates might think twice about public life if they thought everything they've done in life was going to be placed under a spotlight.

"I've literally opened up the inside of my heart," he said. "Is this what we demand of people we elect to office?"

The senator made headlines of a different sort in February when he brandished a wooden club and chased two would-be robbers from the Brainerd liquor store he owned. No arrests were ever made in the incident.

At the time of his announcement Koering said he would seek re-election in 2006. While some observers predicted Koering might face a challenge for the District 12 Republican endorsement, none has surfaced to date.

Two Democrats, Crow Wing County Commissioner Terry Sluss and St. Cloud State University student Jessica Ringwelski of Fort Ripley, have announced their intention to seek the DFL-endorsement for the District 12 seat.

Koering defeated then-Senate President Don Samuelson on the third try in 2002.

MIKE O'ROURKE can be reached at 855-5860.