Senjem elected to lead Senate Republicans

by T.W Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Senate Republicans Dec. 27 elected Sen. David Senjem of Rochester the new Senate Majority Leader.

Sen. David Senjem

Senjem, 69, a retired Mayo Clinic employee, replaces former Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo who resigned following reports that she was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a Senate staffer. Koch took part in the caucus meeting.

“The caucus has acted,” Senjem, said at the Roseville Radisson  following a day-long, closed doors meeting by Senate Republicans.

“All directions now are looking forward.

“No more looking backward.”

In addition to electing Senjem, the caucus also placed a new assistant majority leader team in place, comprising Sen. Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes, Sen. Paul Gazelka of Brainerd, Sen. Ted Lillie of Lake Elmo and Sen. Claire Robling of Jordan.

Chamberlain, Gazelka, and Lillie are all first-term members of the Senate, although Gazelka, an insurance agent, served three terms in the House.

Robling is chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.

According to Senjem, the previous caucus leadership team, which included senators Chris Gerlach of Apple Valley and Dave Thompson of Lakeville, by their own choice decided to step aside.

The ballot was a secret ballot.

Senjem refrained from offering details about the election.

Republican senators leaving and entering the caucus meeting room at the Radisson were tight-lipped all day.

Sen. Sean Nienow of Cambridge said he personally was not seeking the top slot because he felt others could fill it more capably.

Others felt differently.

Sen. Michael Jungbauer of East Bethel posted a video on YouTube in which he made a pitch for himself to be the new Senate Majority Leader.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton telephoned Senjem to congratulate him on his election.

“I look forward to a constructive working relationship with him on behalf of the people of Minnesota,” Dayton said in a statement.

Senjem previously served as Senate Minority Leader when the Democrats controlled the Senate.

He explained his departure from the top slot in caucus leadership by saying he needed a break.

As a debater, Senjem tends not to use sharp rhetoric.

“I have no idea,” he joked when asked why caucus members thought he was the best choice to lead the caucus.

Although the caucus has a new leader, Senjem said its agenda hasn’t changed, citing government reform, job creation and building the state’s economy.

“It’s being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said of the agenda.

Robling styled Senjem as “a great collaborator.”

Senjem spoke of the two weeks since the Koch scandal broke as a difficult time for the caucus.

Caucus members spent time discussing the matter, he said.

Senjem was reluctant to characterize how well caucus leaders handled the scandal, saying the whole chain of the events was sad and perplexing.

Caucus leaders did their best, he said.

Senjem was part of the former leadership team.

The sky ahead is bright for the Senate Republican Caucus, he said.

“We’re energized. We’re enthused. We’re looking forward to the 2012 session,” said Senjem.

In terms of the gambling debate, Senjem has backed racino, the proposal that would add slot machines to the state’s two horse race tracks, including Running Aces in Columbus.