All legislative leaders embrace jobs priority, but GOP leaders skittish on stadium, Amy Koch issues

Left to right: Speaker Zellers, Gov. Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Senjem and Senate Minority Leader Bakk.

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Left to right: Speaker Zellers, Gov. Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Senjem and Senate Minority Leader Bakk.

Heading into the new session, Republican legislative leaders aren’t too eager to deal with two high-profile issues: Sen. Amy Koch and the Vikings stadium.

At a briefing Thursday afternoon involving Gov. Mark Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem and the DFL’s minority leaders, Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. Paul Thissen, there was universal agreement that the top priority is job creation.

This session, arranged by Forum Communications and ECM-Sun Communications, was to preview the session that begins Tuesday. It mostly was filled with affable chat about how all the leaders “trust” each other, despite the collapse of the last session, which ended with a government shutdown.

But when the talk turned to Koch and the Vikings, the tone of the gathering changed a bit.

Start with Koch, who up until mid-December was the Senate majority leader. Koch, brought down from power by scandal, has announced that she will not run for re-election but that she will come back to complete her term.

“It will be her first time back,’’ said Senjem, adding that she’s sure to be followed by reporters because she has made no public statements since her downfall.

“I’m sure she’s prepared,’’ said Senjem. “She’ll take her seat and do the work.  … She can handle the limelight.’’

Bakk stepped in.

“I feel bad for her,’’ he said. “I don’t believe in piling on. But  I do believe that she and Sen. [Geoff] Michel need to apologize to the Senate.’’

Bakk said that Koch’s behavior and Michel’s less-than-truthful comments to the public in the days following the scandal, have damaged the “integrity’’ of the Senate.

So will Bakk call for an ethics panel to look at the events surrounding her fall and how it was handled by the Republican caucus?

“I would like to see Sen. Senjem and his caucus handle that,’’ Bakk said.

Will Republican senators seek an ethics hearing?

“It won’t happen from our side,’’ Senjem said. “In my mind, it’s history. It was explained fully. It is what it is. Unless someone from the other side wants it [an ethics hearing], it’s not going to happen.’’

On to the Vikings’ stadium, a high-profile issue legislators typically want to hide from.

Dayton, of course, has been clear all along that he wants a stadium — the sooner construction begins, the better. He has not, however, put together a bill.

Zellers tried Thursday to dance all around the issue, never saying whether he supports a stadium.

“There’s got to be a concerte bill,’’ Zellers said.

But Zellers wouldn’t say if he’s helping to shape the bill, if he’s pushing the bill or even if he wants to get the stadium issue resolved this session.

He was asked if he and other legislators were “fearful” of voting on a stadium bill.

“A fear of voting on what?’’ he said, adding that “It’s a game of ‘what if?’ “

Senjem was at least a little more forthright in talking about the issue.

“It’s important,’’ he said.  “Not the most important thing … but it’s a freight train coming through. We can’t run from it.’’

Bakk, with great delight, indirectly hammered both of the Republican leaders.

“The Vikings are incredibly frustrated,’’ he said. “We told them, ‘Go out, find a site and a local partner and we’ll take it up with you.’ Then, we had the budget issue [last session]. We didn’t take it up. I get that.

“But the Vikings deserve a vote,’’ he continued. “They have done what we’ve asked them to do. They found a site. They found a local partner. They got local financing, a sales tax just like Hennepin County used for the Twins. But Republican leaders said, ‘No.’ They [[(Ramsey County leaders] came back with a food and beverage tax. The law does not require a referendum on that, but still the leaders said, ‘No.’

“There is a site [Arden Hills], there is local financing,’’ Bakk continued. “If we can’t get it done, just say, ‘We can’t get it done. We owe the Vikings and the NFL that.’’

Senjem tried to at least spread the responsibility around.

“This has to play out,’’ he said. “These are arduous things. … This crosses into the world of bipartisanship.’’

Bakk nodded in agreement, saying he’s not sure he’d even support a stadium bill.

“I voted against the Twins stadium,’’ Bakk said. “But we owe it [a vote] to the team.’’

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/19/2012 - 06:21 pm.

    Bakk doesn’t believe in “piling on”, but he expects Koch to get down on her knees in the Senate chamber (she’s already apologized), oh, and he’ll be wanting an investigation as well.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 01/19/2012 - 07:49 pm.

    Hmmm….I think it is safe to say that if the roles were reversed and it just happened to be a DFLer in the precarious situation Sen. Koch has put herself and her caucus in, the party of “family values” would not only demand an investigation, they would also demand a resignation. They would be piling on early and often.

    I think this overall dysfunctional group of ne’er do wells would best serve the people’s interests by getting whatever little work they have to do done. Then leave.

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/20/2012 - 07:03 am.

    “[he expects Koch to get down on her knees in the Senate chamber]”

    You crack me up Tom! That’s an image I would rather not see.

  4. Submitted by rolf westgard on 01/20/2012 - 07:08 am.

    Once again, I will agree with Mr. Swift. Let’s get on to important matters, although our legislators have trouble sorting wheat from chaff.

  5. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/20/2012 - 08:21 am.

    “It won’t happen from our side,’’ Senjem said. “In my mind, it’s history. It was explained fully.’’

    Really? And the other member of the tango team was He Who Shall Not Be Named… Or?

    The party of denial will have some splainin’ to do when the marriage constitutional amendment is discussed prior to the November election.

    The party of family values: Do what we say, not what we do. No surprise that members of the majority sat on their hands when it came time to speak in favor of the marriage amendment last Fall in the legislature.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/20/2012 - 09:00 am.

    Mr. Swift seems to be ignorant of the fact that official/formal apologies to the Senate from a member are delivered in person in session.

    No “on knees” demanded or required.

  7. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/20/2012 - 09:38 am.

    Given the utter lack of public information on exactly what happened, with whom and how it might have affected government operations, it’s not at all unreasonable to expect an investigation of the events surrounding Ms. Koch’s resignation, if only to prevent the recurrence of any improprieties. Whether Sen. Senjem’s decision is based on political concerns or compassion for a friend, it’s the wrong call.

    As for the Vikings: get a bill together and vote the damned thing down.

  8. Submitted by Mark Stromseth on 01/20/2012 - 02:20 pm.

    “Bakk said that Koch’s behavior and Michel’s less-than-truthful comments to the public in the days following the scandal[…]”

    Come on, Doug! Why use metaphors instead of the actual truth? A lie is a lie, so there’s no reason to let Michel skate on what he did. Reporting is about facts, not shying away from the truth.

    Republicans are all too eager to steal from the playbook of President Obama and “look forward, not backward.” But the People aren’t willing to do that; we want answers and accountability. That means consequences for their actions.

    I guess none of them ever studied Winston Churchill, who said:

    “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you will see.”

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