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State Sen. Amy Koch stepping down

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Budget deal reached
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, seen here in July 2011, announced Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 that she's stepping down from her post.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

GOP Sen. Majority Leader Amy Koch is stepping down from her position as Majority Leader and won't run for re-election. Her decision shocked many at the State Capitol including her Republican colleagues in the Senate. The decision leaves Senate Republicans scrambling for a new leader, and it could have an effect on the 2012 elections.

There's no hidden agenda behind her decision, Koch said. She decided to step down because it's time to try other things.

"I want to explore some other options. I want to spend a little time with my daughter. I think it's ok to pass off the baton."

Koch, who has considered possible runs for higher office, such as Congress and governor in the past, would not rule out a future run for office but said it's not in her immediate plans. She said it's more likely that she will end up in the private sector than on an election ballot. Koch will serve out her term, but is stepping down as leader because she didn't believe the caucus should be represented by a lame duck.

"I'll continue to support the caucus. I love them all. I'll support the new majority leader. I'm excited by what I see in 2012. I'll be a part of that but just not in front of the cameras and the microphones, maybe."

Koch is the first female Senate Majority Leader in Minnesota history. She is widely credited with helping Republicans win control of the Senate in 2010 for the first time in 38 years. She was also in the middle of a prolonged budget battle with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton that led to a government shutdown lasting three weeks last summer. Koch, who was involved in around-the-clock negotiations, said the balance between the shutdown and her personal life was difficult.

Her announcement took her colleagues by surprise. Republican Senator Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen said she was shocked by Koch's announcement but understands the challenge of balancing family and legislative responsibilities. Ortman said Koch made an unmistakable mark after a year as majority leader.

"She put together a very strong set of candidates, helped us recruit great candidates, helped us to form a great message which connected with Minnesotans and she brought a whole new style of leadership to the Capitol. I think her legacy is significant."

Senate Republicans will now have to find a new majority leader who will lead them in the 2012 session and be responsible for maintaining Republican control of the Senate in the 2012 elections. Every member of the Legislature is up for election next year and redistricting will force a new set of political boundaries. 

First-term Sen. Ted Daley, R-Eagan said Koch's resignation presents a short-term challenge for the caucus, which must now select a replacement.

"There are a lot of great leaders out there, a lot of great people that are going to be willing to step up," Daley said. "We have a great opportunity to find those folks who are interested and want to step up and provide that leadership."

Assistant Majority Leader Geoff Michel will serve as temporary Majority Leader. Michel sent an email saying GOP bylaws call for the election of a new majority leader within two weeks.

GOP Senator Dave Thompson of Lakeville said he hasn't thought about running for the position but would not rule it out. Thompson believes Senate Republicans will be fine heading into 2012.

"Our caucus is committed to the kind of policy changes and budget approach that we took last session and I believe regardless of who succeeds Senator Koch, that's going to continue," Thompson said.

Koch's departure further unsettles the Republican Party of Minnesota. GOP delegates are meeting on Dec. 31 to elect a new chair after Tony Sutton abruptly resigned earlier this month. Dayton issued a statement expressing regret that Koch is stepping down. Even though the two have disagreed he called Koch an excellent leader and wished her success in the future.