Choice of Senjem moves GOP Senate caucus one step toward middle

Sen. David Senjem
Sen. David Senjem

The Republican Senate caucus appeared to take a small step toward the middle Tuesday with the selection of  Dave Senjem of Rochester as its majority leader.

Although Senjem can give a rip-roaring, red-meat conservative speech on the evils of government getting in the way of business, this is a man who doesn’t reflect the hard-right tone of so many in his caucus. He believes in process. He believes in working both sides of the aisle.

He believes in bonding and parks and, yes, he believes in racinos.

One of the first calls he apparently made this morning was to his old pal, former Sen. Dick Day, a longtime racino advocate who now is lobbying on behalf of Running Aces.

“I congratulated him,’’ said Day, “but I told him that it’s probably better news for me than it is for him.’’

A huge job ahead
Senjem does have a huge job ahead of him.

Given what looks to be a mini-purge of previous leaders, he’s got to train in a batch of new leaders. He’s  got to try to hold rein on a caucus that includes a sizable block of members who want to veer hard right. He’s got to prepare for elections 10 months away. (It’s far from a given, that Republicans can hold onto their Senate majority.) He’s got the trim $2 million from the Senate’s operating budget. He’s got to deal with the messy Vikings stadium.

And, of course, as much as he wants to “look forward, not back,” he’s still got the Amy Koch matter to deal with.

In a letter this morning, Sen. Tom Bakk made it clear that DFLers aren’t just going to let the Koch matter fade away.

“We both know this is an extremely difficult time in the history of the Senate,’’ Bakk wrote. “The integrity and honor of the Minnesota Senate has been seriously called into question by recent events and right now our first priority must be restoring the public’s trust in our institution. I urge you as the new Majority Leader to take this responsibility very seriously and ensure that all ethical and legal questions surrounding the recent allegations concerning Senate members’ conduct are addressed in a transparent and expeditious manner.’’

Bakk could be accused of being a little over the top here. Really now, how much “trust’’ has the public had in any government institution?

But what’s interesting is Bakk’s use of the plural in reference to the behavior of “Senate members’ conduct.”

It’s obvious that Bakk is contemplating ethics questions surrounding members beyond Koch. Such senators as Geoff Michel had best be prepared to answer the old “What did you know, and when did you know it?’’ questions.

It’s unclear how the caucus ended up turning to the 69-year-old Senjem to try to pick up the pieces of a caucus in the wake of the downfall of Koch.

So far, at least, Republicans are staying fairly closed-mouth about the specifics of what went on for 11 hours behind the closed doors of the meeting room at the Radisson Hotel in Roseville.

Low-key Koch appearance
Koch was present in the meeting room, though she found a side door to enter and exit the hotel, thus avoiding reporters. Although she’s issued a couple of statements since her fall, she’s done no live interviews.

It is believed that some members of the caucus are suggesting she step down from her Senate seat, though to date Koch has only said she will not run again in November.

Senjem, by the way, says he has urged Koch to stay on.

By all accounts, she was treated warmly on Tuesday by her colleagues.

Yet, it had to be uncomfortable for all parties because it’s believed considerable time was spent at the caucus meeting clearing the air on what happened during the weeks that preceded Koch’s fall and why now-former leaders didn’t keep the caucus updated on such things as secret meetings.

The scandal will remain the stuff of front page coverage.

But the stadium issue also will be front and center.

Senjem’s very up-front position on racinos has most believing that this gambling proposal, which has been a part of legislative discussions for more than a decade, means that there’s a strong chance a racino bill could pass in the Senate.

But even Day admits that there are no sure bets regarding the issue.

“This is the best position we’ve ever been in,” said Day of racino possibilities. “But there are still anti-gaming factions and anti-stadium factions. The point we’ll be making is that there’s money out there. Take the money and spend it how you want.”

Racino status unclear in House
The status of racinos is harder to figure in the House.

“The House isn’t as strong as the Senate because of Zellers,’’ said Day of House Speaker Kurt Zellers. “You talk to other [House] leaders and they’re supportive, but the Speaker doesn’t even talk to me about it.”

But now, Day acknowledges, those favoring racinos have the support of the Senate majority leader and, presumably, the governor. By combining racino funds with a stadium and paying down the school shift, there may be a way to pull off majority support.

All of this was at play as members of the Republican caucus talked and talked. All the while, upward of 50 members of the media waited in the lobby of the Radisson Tuesday.

It was a strange scene.

Every couple of hours, the caucus meeting would break and the senators could be seen moving from their meeting room to the restrooms across a public hallway.

In this new age of instant media, there was little schmoozing between reporters and senators.

“The schmoozing” once was a valuable way for reporters to gain small insights into what was happening behind closed doors. But now, politicians have learned that anything said in what they thought was a “private, off the record’’ conversation might instantly be tweeted or end up on an Internet video.

For example, at one point Tuesday, Sen. Warren Limmer was having a friendly chat with a couple of reporters about nothing serious. He looked up and saw a camera being operated by a volunteer from The UpTake.

“Every time I turn around, I see that camera,” Limmer said. He excused himself and returned to the meeting room.

So mostly, reporters ambled about the lobby, munching cookies furnished by the genial hotel manager and trying to entertain themselves by watching the Little Caesar’s bowl game — Western Michigan versus Purdue— and reading tweets.

The most bizarre of those were being sent by the deposed Michael Brodkorb.

Only a few days ago, Brodkorb would have been a key player in all of this.

Certainly, if the shoe had been on the other foot — a DFL senator had fallen because of an inappropriate relationship — Brodkorb would have been firing off harsh comments.

But now, he’s on the outside. He was tweeting such things as what three movies would you want to have if you were stranded on an island.

Finally, the meeting broke and out of the room came Senjem. He was surrounded by the new team, Sens. Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes, Paul Gazelka of Brainerd, Ted Lillie of Lake Elmo and Claire Robling of Jordan. With the exception of Robling, this is not a well-known crew.

Senjem then addressed the media.

In the next week, Senjem will select two more leaders. The big question is whether David Hann, who wanted the top job, or Michel will be in the mix.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/28/2011 - 01:46 pm.

    Senator Senjem is, I believe, a civil and moderate Republican rather than an ALEC member dedicated to the service of corporate power (of which the legislature unfortunately has over 30 members). I would hope to see some progress toward moderation and less rigidity in future budget debates.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/28/2011 - 03:50 pm.

    “The scandal will remain the stuff of front page coverage.”

    At Minnpost, no doubt, but the MSM? Please; it’s already stale.

    Interesting anecdote regarding the Uptake. I wonder how long the MSM will allow their own access to be stifled by the presence of leftist, agit-prop media before they, and the public begins to push back?

    It’s all well and good for leftists to get their red-meat, and everyone appreciates great coverage and inside info on any drum circles happening, but the public has the right to coverage of serious matters as well.

    I’m guessing it’s already a given that any leaks, or sharing to Uptake (or Minnpost?) by established political reporters is instant death to access of any sort.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/28/2011 - 04:13 pm.

    I just don’t get the raccino thing, it won’t produce $50 million a year to pay for a stadium, and if it falls short, who’s on the hook for the balance and where will that money come from?

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/28/2011 - 04:42 pm.

    The racino is pie-in-the-sky politics; it sounds like getting something for nothing.

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 12/28/2011 - 04:47 pm.

    Leader Senjem’s major problem will not be with the democrates, it will be with those on the right that are hanging on to the very edge of the republican platform with their finger tips because they are so out there they are in foolishness land. How does Leader Senjem pull them off the ledge before they, and their foolishness, takes the party down with them. If Leader Senjen is more of a moderate that is a move in the correct direction. I suspect the 99% message is getting through. Now the republicans need to follow words with actions. Good luck Leader Senjem!

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/28/2011 - 10:46 pm.

    At this stage, there’s no way to know, of course, if the new Senate Majority Leader knows the difference between “govern” and “rule.” One can always hope that the choice of Senjem does, indeed, indicate a step toward some minimal coherence, and the notion of serving the public of the state rather than the firebrands on the right. We’ll see.

    Beyond that, and for a change, I’m in agreement with Mr. Swift to a very small degree. I can’t speak for MinnPost, of course, but here at my house, the Koch scandal is already stale. Yet another political figure proves herself to be human after working hard to make it more difficult for the rest of us to be so. Sad – personally and professionally – for her and her family, but not uncommon. It’s happened before. It will happen again.

    As for agitprop, Mr. Swift is often a propaganda professional, and it takes only minimal rewriting to deal with his usual boilerplate:

    …Interesting anecdote regarding Fox News. I wonder how long the MSM will allow their own access to be stifled by the presence of right wing, agitprop media before they, and the public, begin to push back?

    It’s all well and good for right-wingers to get their red meat, and everyone appreciates great coverage and inside info on the latest conspiracy theories, but the public has the right to coverage of serious matters as well.

    I’m guessing it’s already a given that any leaks, or sharing to Fox News (or Sean Hannity?) by established political reporters is instant death to access of any sort…

    Forgive my appalling lack of knowledge of more extreme right wing media, but I basically try to avoid them, and the point seems obvious. Much of Mr. Swift’s comment is irrelevant snark. Fox News is agitprop enough…

  7. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 12/29/2011 - 06:15 am.

    Let me explain the process. On one side we have a crony white male mainstream media (think Nick Coleman, Jr.) who want to counter their “white skin guilt’ by championing the cause of the impoverished and starving native american members of the Mystik Lake /casino tribes who see seem somehow, despite their minority oppression lavish huge monies to many legislators who are told to oppose the Los Angelese Vikings”. Asked about how they can take money from a an impoverished Indianian tribe like the Mystic Lake tribe the recipient legislators get ‘the vapors’.

    I’m sure that the average Minnesotan can easily understand the impoverishment and oppression of of members of the Mystic Lake tribe who get several million dollars per year just for being member of the tribe.

    If the Vikings move to Los Angelese our elected officials will some severe “explaining” when they were getting big contributions from the Indian casinos they portrayed as ‘impoverished and starving'”.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/29/2011 - 08:03 am.

    “… the Mystic Lake tribe who get several million dollars per year just for being member of the tribe.”

    Not true. Thanks to Obama’s economy, it’s down to less than $900,000.

  9. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/29/2011 - 09:34 am.

    (#7) Bitter? Just a tiny bit bitter?

    Inquiring minds want to know how authorizing a “racino” and rewarding a certain couple people at a particular company is any different than rewarding a tribe with a casino?

    And how much money has been pushing the “racino” interests for years? It’s not like they haven’t been lobbying for years and I would guess Mr. Day is not working for free.
    It’s big money for anyone who twists the decision in their favor.

    Perhaps it has more to do with the “Indianian”-ness of the lobbying of the tribes. Because, quite certainly, the tribes were an impoverished lot before the casinos became a reality.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/29/2011 - 09:37 am.

    Ray makes an interesting juxtaposition between unpaid volunteers schlepping a handheld video camera around and the most widely watched news source in the country, but I would be remiss not to point out that Sean Hannity is a conservative political commentator who makes no claim to being unbiased.

    As for large news sources, I have no problem detecting the leftist slant in choice of stories NPR chooses to cover, or in the tone and tenor with which they cover them, but I still find value in their product.

    I’ve found avoiding a thing I find unpleasant doesn’t make it go away, irrespective of how much disfavor I vent towards it.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Anderson on 12/29/2011 - 10:08 am.

    Dennis Tester- Because it was obama who was president when the financial system collapsed due to under regulation right Dennis?

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/29/2011 - 09:08 pm.

    Funny how the knuckleheads of both parties and their “news sources” continue to focus on taxes.

    I just put a check in the mail for my property taxes.

    Up 9.4% year over year.

  13. Submitted by Bruce Lindberg on 12/30/2011 - 10:49 am.

    I’m hoping that Senator Senjem can provide the kind of leadership needed for more pragmatic and rationale public policy focused on making the kind of investments needed for Minnesota to remain competitive in the global economy.(Which by the way, is not managed by President Obama.)

    We are competing with powerful nation-states and are at an extreme disadvantage if we continue with the ideological warfare that subverts strategic investments and private-public partnerships aimed at improving infrastructure, increasing venture capital investment, creating a more rationale business tax structure, and assuring higher levels of educational attainment.

    The last thing we need is more divisiveness around issues that are matters of personal choice, especially with regard to our number one national hang up: who is sleeping with whom. The Democrats should back off the politically motivated persecution of Senator Koch, and the Republicans need to realize that their anti-gay marriage amendment is a step backwards in creating a climate of tolerance that is correlated with a vibrant economy.

  14. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/02/2012 - 10:56 am.

    Well, here’s hoping that we can get additional reasonable legislatures in positions of authority. This whole “my way or the highway” routine wasn’t effective in grade school and it hasn’t improved with age.

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