Senate leader Dziedzic says she’ll leave top post amid health complications

Kari Dziedzic poses for a portrait
Kari Dziedzic, Majority Leader-designate of the Minnesota Senate poses for a portrait at Minnesota Senate Building in St Paul.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News 2022

Updated: 4:03 p.m.

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic disclosed Friday a recurrence of cancer as she announced her intention to leave the top post upon selection of a replacement.

No timetable was given for the DFL caucus to name a new leader. Dziedzic plans to remain in the Legislature. Senate Rules allow her to vote remotely.

During last year’s session, Dziedzic was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She underwent emergency surgery in March. She worked remotely during her treatment and recovery, but  returned near the end of a busy spring push.

Dziedzic, 61, said she was alerted to the recurrence last week.

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“I am facing some serious challenges,” Dziedzic said in a news release. “As we prepare for the next session, I decided it is in the best interest of the caucus for me to step down as majority leader after our caucus has selected a new leader.”

Democrats hold a narrow 34-33 majority. And the leadership change will be a major shuffle as the annual session gets under way on Feb. 12.

Dziedzic’s colleagues offered words of encouragement and said they would miss having her at the helm.

“With just a one-vote majority, Leader Dziedzic brought lawmakers together,” Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said in a statement that characterized the decision to step aside as “reflective of her selfless leadership style.”

Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, said the caucus would lean on the close relationships it had established to press ahead.

“I think our focus really is on remaining the united caucus that we have been for the last year, and Kari's leadership really helped solidify that unity,” she said.

Dziedzic was first elected in 2012 to a district representing Minneapolis.

Despite her health ailment, she said the DFL-led Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz accomplished much last year. She noted that other members stepped up to help when she was unable to attend meetings or be part of negotiations. 

Walz praised Dziedzic for helping deliver new laws around gun safety, abortion protections and school funding.

“The impact of that work will be measured for decades,” Walz said in a social media post. “Her grit and passion represents the best of Minnesota. I’m incredibly grateful for her service.”

Dziedzic urged others to tend to regular health checkups to catch serious problems sooner.

“Life can be rough. You never know when others are dealing with family or medical challenges,” she said. “Kindness and a smile go a long way.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson said Dziedzic is in his prayers.

“I wish her all the best as she takes care of herself and beats cancer again; I know she will,” Johnson said in a written statement. “Her genuine friendship as a fellow caucus leader will be deeply missed.”