Kent departs as Senate DFL leader, won’t run again

Two women stand and smile.
Minnesota Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, left, talks to Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman inside of the Minnesota Senate Building in St. Paul, Minn., in this file photo from February 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Minnesota Senate DFL leader Susan Kent will step down from that job and won’t run for another legislative term next year, the second shakeup in two days in the chamber’s top ranks.

Kent, a third-term senator from Woodbury, informed her caucus of the decision Thursday night. In a statement, Kent called it a difficult decision and cited the need to be freed up to tend to her mother who is in an assisted-living facility in Dallas.

“The pandemic has been hard on everyone — hard on millions of families — and mine is absolutely no exception,” she said. “ Throughout it all, I’ve tried my best to do two roles that I alone can do: be my son’s mother, and my mother’s daughter, in fact, her only family member.”

Kent said she hasn’t seen her mother in two years. “It is time to make changes in my life and put my family first,” she said.

She is the third suburban Democrat to announce her retirement from what could be a competitive district next year. All 201 legislative seats are on the ballot, putting control of both chambers up for grabs in a year that Minnesotans will also elect a governor.

A woman walks on red carpet with a box of hand sanitizer.
Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent walks into the Senate chambers with small bottles of hand sanitizer for each Senator's desk inside the Minnesota State Capitol in March 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Kent has been the minority leader since February 2020 when the DFL caucus swept aside then-leader Tom Bakk of Cook. He left the DFL entirely after last year’s election and is now an independent who caucuses with Republicans.

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The shift means both parties will have new leaders heading into the election year. Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, gave up his post as majority leader this week in anticipation of a likely run for governor.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka talks with Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent on the Senate Floor before the start of a session in St. Paul in June 2020.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

Republicans will choose a new leader soon but have designated East Grand Forks Sen. Mark Johnson for the top job until then.

There will also be an internal election among DFLers for minority leader, set for Sept. 13.

Kent said she will work to support whomever takes over and stay in office until her term ends in early 2023.

“I will be forever grateful for this experience and appreciate everyone's grace and understanding of this decision.”

Kent had faced criticism from within her caucus last month for the handling of a sexual harassment complaint by a former staffer. The staffer accused another Democratic aide of misconduct but the incident didn’t undergo a full-scale investigation.

The Senate has since launched an outside inquiry into how the matter was handled.