New Senate leader Amy Koch determined to keep GOP caucus ‘on task’ on budget and job priorities

“Give us the gavels,” Republican legislators were fond of saying when they were in the minority.

By early morning on Nov. 3, they got ’em. In the House, there were no big surprises as the caucus moved to make their minority leader, Kurt Zellers, the speaker.

Senate Republicans, however, moved in a different direction, selecting Amy Koch of Buffalo as the majority leader, sidestepping Minority Leader Dave Senjem. The move was made with no apparent rancor.

Koch, the first woman ever to serve as Senate majority leader, has both the fiscal and social conservative bona-fides that represents the new majority. There always was some suspicion among some in the caucus that Senjem held some moderate views.

Even by the eclectic standards of the Minnesota Legislature, she has a unique background. After attending Concordia College in Moorhead, she enlisted in the Air Force (in 1991) with the understanding she’d end up in linguistics. Her language specialty became Russian. (Her husband, whom she met in the service, specialized in Arabic.)

Koch, 40, has a 14-year-old daughter and runs (with her husband, Christopher) a family-owned utilities services company. She first was elected to the Senate in a special election in 2005.

She took a break from what quickly has become a hectic schedule to speak with MinnPost.

MinnPost: When did it dawn on you that you might be the Senate majority leader?

State Sen. Amy Koch
State Sen. Amy Koch

Amy Koch: I decided on Wednesday morning. I thought about it. Considered it and decided to go for it while I was still in the clouds from the night before.

MP: How did you deal with Senjem?

AK:
That was the first call I made. We talked and just kept talking. Dave was amazing about it. He’s a class act. We need him to head two or three different, very important, things.

MP: Did Senjem want the job of leader?

AK:
That’s something you’d need to ask him.

MP: When will you move into the office currently occupied by Larry Pogemiller. (The majority party in the Senate has offices in the Capitol; the minority has offices in the State Office Building.)

AK:
That is part of the transition, but lower on the list. It’s something we’re working on. We have chairs to pick out, committees to form, staff to hire. The move itself is something like 70th on our list of priorities.

MP: Have you spoken with Pogemiller since the election?

AK:
We spoke yesterday [Monday]. He was very accommodating. He said he’ll be ready to move anytime we’re ready.

MP: Speaker Zellers has talked of the desire to mesh House and Senate committees. Has that process begun? He talks about how a table of organization should not look like “a plate of spaghetti” Do you agree with his assessment?

AK:
We met with House folks yesterday [Monday] morning. We’ll be finalizing some plans soon. We want to lay out some of the noodles in straight lines — that’s what he says. There’ll be fewer committees, that sort of thing. Aligning (House and Senate committees) is so important to save time, to help staff. It will also be fantastic for the public. It will be much easier to follow the process. People are going to be pleased.

MP: Zellers also has talked of social issues being a low priority this session. Do you agree with that?

Speaker Kurt Zellers
Speaker Kurt Zellers

AK: I think our goals are similar. I am a social conservative, but we’ve had a conversation with the caucus. They ran on the budget, the economy and jobs. We talked about how this is not the time to be messing around [with social issues]. We’re going to be unified on that.

MP: Who was your political hero?

AK:
I’m a child of the ’80s and ’90s, and that means Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were very important to me. … I come from a very political family. We argue around the table. We’re a big, loud Catholic family. It’s part of the meal for us. Salad, entrees and a political fight. They’re all conservative, but I have a brother who will counterpoint my mother, just for the sake of the argument. I have found myself taking positions that just amaze me, just so we can have the argument.”

MP: You mean, you sometimes argue as if you’re John Marty?

AK:
I don’t go that far.

MP: Where do racinos fit in the GOP plans?

AK:
I’m not certain. They are mixed views on that in both of the caucuses. But that’s an issue on the revenue side. Right now, we’re focusing on the spending side.

MP: After being in the minority and watching the DFL majority, what differences will we see in the operation of the Senate?

AK:
We’ve learned a healthy respect for the minority. We’re going to be mindful of that. There’s no appetite for payback in our caucus. We’ve talk about that. We want transparency. We expect to follow the rules. We will respect the minority. Scheduling may be different. Last session, my schedule was so packed that I only had time to meet with my constituents from 12 to 12:30. We’d like to improve that. I think you’ll see our priorities in the first five to 10 bills we put out. Our goal is to get in, get out. Let’s deal with the budget, reforms, redistricting and go home.

MP: The budget, government reform, redistricting and go home? That sounds like a very heavy load.

AK:
Allow us our moment of naiveté.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/10/2010 - 08:58 am.

    There is a part of me which, after having listened to Republicans whine about per diem, and the other costs associated with the care and feeding of legislators, that views with amusement the blitheness withe which Sen. Koch is willing to stick the taxpayers with the costs of moving all those offices around.

    Issues come and go, but perks are always perks.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/10/2010 - 09:25 am.

    “We talked about how this is not the time to be messing around [with social issues]. We’re going to be unified on that.”

    Utter nonsense. It’s just a matter of time before the Minnesota Family Council and its allied theocratic social engineers will start to demand that their agenda be put to the front. hThe Council has already started making its usual noise about a referndum on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, but this time around, they have more influence. Socail conservatives are the Republican base. If the Republicans want to retain legislative control after 2012, that base must be placated. The leadership may mouth reasonable sounding platitudes about jobs and the economy, but their masters have different ideas.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/10/2010 - 10:10 am.

    1. Eliminate taxes on commercial inventory.

    2. Tax credits for capital investments.

    3. Tax credits for R&D projects.

    4. Accelerate depreciation schedules.

    5. Revise workers compensation law; eliminate third party underwriter requirement.

    6. Convert public employee pensions to the private 401K plans the public is limited to.

    Get these things done this year and then pass a bill to put a constitutional amendment before the voters next year.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/10/2010 - 11:13 am.

    In my personal experience, social issues never came up in this campaign, the exception being the dust up with Target over various issues. I would be surprised if they come up in any serious way during the session.

  5. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 11/10/2010 - 12:04 pm.

    @Hiram

    AT LEAST HALF of the Republican foot soldiers are religious conservatives. They will demand the Defense of Marriage Act. It will come up without fail. If it doesn’t, guess who will sit out next election. And the Repbublican leadership knows that.

  6. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 11/10/2010 - 12:06 pm.

    @Swift

    Those are textbook tax breaks that reward wealth at the expense of rewarding work. Apparently to Republicans every day people are just in the way of modern progress.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/10/2010 - 12:12 pm.

    Hiram,

    Look, they have no ideas and no plan regarding the economy and the budget aside from cutting taxes, which will fail on both counts just like it did under Pawlenty. Holdbrook is right, when they realize they have nothing else to do they’ll turn back to they’re “values” agenda. Republican always pull a bait and switch. Pawlenty ran as a moderate and then ruled like ideologue, don’t expect that to change now.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/10/2010 - 02:24 pm.

    The solution to our problems is…

    wait for it…

    you’ll never guess….

    you’ll be surprised…

    TAX BREAKS!!

    Only one slight problem, we’re already in the hole from insufficient revenue.

    Isn’t it amazing how personal and corporate tax reductions for the past 30 years have lead to insufficient revenue?

    Whodathunkit !?!

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/10/2010 - 02:28 pm.

    With all due respect; do you people copy this stuff from the Daily Kos morning brief, or just make it up as you go along?

    The capital investments to which I refer are the machines and infrastructure of industry, not transgender washrooms in the state office building.

    Commercial inventory consists of production of work; products that are the result of Research and Development.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/10/2010 - 02:58 pm.

    “Only one slight problem, we’re already in the hole from insufficient revenue.”

    Let’s see if we can objectively look at that statement, shall we?

    Right now, as of today, the state is not “in the hole”; the budget is balanced, at least on paper (vis, the K-12 shifts).

    If we take in oh, say, $15 Billion in taxes this year, we’re $15 Billion dollars in the black; our coffers runneth over.

    If the government creates a budget that spends $15 bil or less, we avoid “the hole” and return the products and services the taxpayers have paid for.

    The Minnesota state legislature has promised to provide the government services we have sufficient revenue to cover; it’s just that simple.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/10/2010 - 03:13 pm.

    “Look, they have no ideas and no plan regarding the economy and the budget aside from cutting taxes, which will fail on both counts just like it did under Pawlenty.

    In fairness, I ran out of good ideas a long time ago, and lately I have been running short of bad ideas.

    The Republican idea is to give business a free ride. The preliminary indications from Amy is that she is willing to pass anything business is willing to put on her desk. I have my doubts.

  12. Submitted by Roger Brooks on 11/10/2010 - 03:26 pm.

    This would be a good time for the House and Senate to consider establishing a joint committee hearing process for bills introduced in both houses. This would essentially consolidate what are now separate hearings held in each house. Each committee would hear the same testimony and hear what response and concerns members of the other house have. This could speed up and improve the legislative process. Several states (including Wisconsin?) have already adopted this time/money-saving procedure.

  13. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/10/2010 - 04:44 pm.

    England’s newly elected Thatcherite prime minister is busy dismantling that country’s social safety net and cutting aid to higher ed.
    Ms.Koch will probably follow suit. Both will be responsible for much hardship, with England returning to a Dickensian land of haves and have nots and Minnesota (and/or the whole U.S.) to the time of William McKinley.

    As Dennis Kucinich said, God help us.

    Or Theodore Roosevelt, should his spirit and his will to fight for the common good be available in another mind/body now alive on Earth.

  14. Submitted by Christopher Bell on 11/10/2010 - 05:56 pm.

    With Dayton as Governor, neither side will get what they want in terms of substantive legislation. As for the budget, both DFL & GOP will have to surrender some sacred cows if the budget is to be balanced.

  15. Submitted by Allison Sandve on 11/10/2010 - 06:00 pm.

    To borrow a phrase from Molly Ivins (who may have borrowed it from someone else), “ya gotta dance with them what brung ya.” So time will tell how willing the new legislative leaders are to be dance partners. Hard to picture the anti-choice, anti-gay equity crowd spending the next two years as wallflowers for the sake of a jobs-focused agenda. Impossible, actually.

  16. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/10/2010 - 08:56 pm.

    Now that the Republicans have some control again, they need to start preparing actual solutions to the problems they claim to be concerned about.

  17. Submitted by Bob Goodman on 01/02/2011 - 08:18 pm.

    Koch and Zellers say they want to cut taxes, reduce government spending and regulation, but all they know to do is cut taxes, an idea as simple minded as Dayton’s proposal to raise taxes.Complexity is not in them; all is easy if you are a good-hearted soul. Same with Dayton.

    Could we call on some adults to help out?

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