Minnesota Senate Republicans have selected Dave Senjem of Rochester as their new majority leader.
The vote came Tuesday night after a marathon, closed-door meeting in a suburban hotel. Senjem takes over for Senator Amy Koch, who resigned the post two weeks ago amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a male staffer.
Nearly all of the 37 Republican senators stood alongside Senjem during his first news conference as majority leader. Amy Koch was not there, although Senjem confirmed that she attended the meeting and was well received by her Senate colleagues.
He described the events that led to Koch's abrupt resignation as "sad" and "perplexing." It's not clear how much of the day was devoted to a rehash of those events, but Senjem's message was that the caucus was now moving forward.
"Over the course of the last two weeks we've gone through a difficult period. But we've come out of that, and all directions now are looking forward. No more looking backward," he said. "The 2012 session is what we have looking us straight in the face, and that's frankly the direction we're looking -- and of course the 2012 elections."
Despite the length of the meeting, Senjem insisted that his caucus is united behind its new leadership.
Senjem previously served as Senate minority leader but did not run against Koch last year after Republicans won control of the Minnesota Senate for the first time in several decades. He said Republicans are committed to working on a clear legislative agenda and a clear campaign message for 2012, when all 67 Senate seats are up for grabs.
"Our priorities will not change. It's jobs and the economy," Senejem said. "It's reforming government. It's being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar. Simple but terribly important given the times we live in."
In a related matter, Senjem is a supporter of proposals to expand gambling and use some of the proceeds to fund a new Vikings stadium. He did not say whether either issue came up during the meeting.
Senjem was one of only a few senators who indicated before the meeting that they were considering running for majority leader. In the end, there were only two candidates. David Hann of Eden Prairie, whom several senators said they thought would be a potential frontrunner, declined comment after the meeting. Hann has butted heads with Gov. Mark Dayton over health care policy. Senjem is widely viewed as less confrontational and more of a consensus builder.
Sen. Claire Robling, of Jordan, said caucus members want to be heard, and she believes Senjem will listen.
"Sen. Senjem is a great collaborator, and I think we feel all that he will include all of us in decisions, and take our input and work with us all very well. That's important for a leadership position," she said.
Robling joins Senjem in a completely overhauled leadership team. The other new assistant majority leaders are Roger Chamberlain, of Lino Lakes, Paul Gazelka, of Brainerd, and Ted Lillie, of Lake Elmo. The new leaders face an immediate financial challenge. The Senate must soon cut $2 million from its operating expenses as part of last summer's budget agreement. The 2012 Legislative session begins in four weeks.
Dayton issued a brief statement in response to Senjem's election. Dayton said he placed a phone call to congratulate the new majority leader, and looks forward to a constructive working relationship with him.
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