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Latest Amy Koch developments complicate GOP plans across the board

Friday revelations about Amy Koch's decision add one more GOP problem.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Friday revelations about Amy Koch’s decision add one more GOP problem.

The sudden turn of events surrounding Sen. Amy Koch’s departure as the Minnesota Senate majority leader could put the Republican Party in some ironic spots in the coming months.

On Thursday, the announcement by Koch that she was immediately stepping down as the majority leader and would not run for office in November was treated almost heroically by politicians of both parties.

She was praised as a role model, a wonderful leader, a politician who probably worked too hard.

The story now is roaring off in a new, though, given contemporary politics, not unusual, direction.

Four senators confront Koch over allegations
As it’s turning out, the decision to abruptly leave the political arena apparently wasn’t made solely by Koch. Four veteran Republican senators — David Hann, Geoff Michel, Chris Gerlach and Claire Robling — had an emergency meeting with Koch on Wednesday night.

In that meeting, she was confronted with allegations of an “inappropriate relationship” with a male Senate staffer. Those allegations were presented to Senate leaders by other Senate staff members at least two weeks ago.

Koch apparently neither confirmed nor denied the allegations.

The word “resign” came up during that Wednesday meeting, but it’s unclear who uttered it and under what circumstances.

When WCCO-TV broke the story of the meeting and the allegations Friday afternoon, Senate leaders called a quick news conference with Capitol reporters.

“We are here with humility and shock,’’ Michel said to reporters.

It wasn’t clear if the senators were in shock over allegations they had first begun to hear recently, or by the fact that the back story to Koch’s decision has become public.

The senators at the news conference — Hann, Michel, Gerlach and Dave Senjem — all said they were surprised by Koch’s Thursday announcement.

Clearly, there is no aspect of this story that’s not difficult for the party, starting with the fact that Koch was popular among senators on both sides of the aisle.

Special political problems for GOP
But it’s the politics of these allegations that present special problems for Republicans.

It’s GOP legislators who last session pushed putting a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot that would restrict marriage to a man and a woman. The amendment is touted as “protecting the sanctity of marriage” in the eyes of socially conservative Republican legislators.

But proponents of opening marriage to gays and lesbians often have argued that the man-woman marriage has hardly been treated as sacred by millions of heterosexual couples.

If allegations surrounding Koch, who is married, are true, she would become in the eyes of many a prime example of the double standard surrounding the heated marriage amendment battle.

Party’s ‘purity test’ problems
“I couldn’t pass the party’s purity test,” said former Republican state Sen. Paul Koering, who is gay and who eventually lost the endorsement of his own party. “I guess this [the Koch situation] shows what goes around comes around. If you’re going to have a party that believes it’s made up of people of the purest standards, you’re going to have a very small party. The fact is we’re all human and we all make human decisions.”

Koering no longer considers himself a Republican. “There’s not a place for being gay in the Republican Party,” he said. Having lost endorsement in August, 2010, he’s become an independent and is contemplating running as an Independence Party candidate for Senate from his Fort Ripley home.

The double-standard issue surrounding the marriage amendment is not the only one Republican legislators will face as the Koch story unfolds.

Fairly or not, there surely will be many who will question whether a male leader would have received the same treatment that Koch has received. But Michel, an attorney, tried to make it clear that this was about the modern workplace.

“We do not want the Minnesota Senate to have that kind of conflict of interest,” Michel told reporters. “We do not want the Minnesota Senate to have that kind of work environment.”

The Republican leaders did not say whether ethics charges will be brought against their now-former leader.

As of late afternoon, Koch had not responded to calls from reporters, but on Thursday she said in an interview with the Associated Press that the decision to leave the politics was hers and that she was not forced out.

Ripple effect likely
Couple the Koch issue with the financial woes of the state party, and you have an even more perplexing campaign problem for GOP members who pride themselves on social purity and fiscal accountability.

There’s hardly any part of the political agenda that Koch’s departure doesn’t affect, according to one Republican senator who asked not to be named because of the sensitive situation. Depending on the leader, that senator said, the fate of even such issues as racinos will be decided, the senator said.

Koch, for example, somewhat mildly opposed any form of expanded gambling. There are other potential leaders on both sides of that issue. If the new leader supports racinos, it has a much better chance of passing this session. If the new leader comes from the anti-gambling wing of the party, it’s dead.

“The whole direction of where we’re headed is going to be determined by the new leader,” the senator said.

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

Comments (40)

  1. Submitted by will lynott on 12/16/2011 - 06:35 pm.

    So, further evidence that the party of family values has feet of clay. I wish there were a stronger word than “hypocrite.”

  2. Submitted by Liz Oppenheimer on 12/16/2011 - 09:49 pm.

    There is so much to be concerned about, angry about. ….The connection between political conservatives and religious conservatives as it relates to the proposed amendment. The likely uptick in hateful remarks from liberals toward conservatives and back again. The continued “look over here” distractions away from things the legislature has done/hasn’t done that hasn’t helped alleviate the jobs scenario, the budget scenario, the you-name-it scenario.

    Building public opinion based on multigenerational stigma that has been conferred to a minority group keeps us from working collaboratively in a healthy manner to solve our woes. And there’s a line between blaming someone (or someones) for her/his/their actions and holding that someone(s) accountable while seeking meaningful reparations.

    One meaningful reparation…? Legislators could vote to remove the 2012 ballot question about marriage–if only the Big Bucks who stand behind the legislators, twisting their arms, would allow it.

  3. Submitted by Michael Jacobs on 12/16/2011 - 10:06 pm.

    O-My-gosh Will, I do believe you’ve said it all, and very quite well indeed!!

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/16/2011 - 10:19 pm.

    “Four veteran Republican senators — David Hann, Geoff Michel, Chris Gerlach and Claire Robling — had an emergency meeting with Koch on Wednesday night. In that meeting, she was confronted with allegations of an “inappropriate relationship” with a male Senate staffer.”

    This brings to mind the events of 1973 when Richard Nixon was visited by four senators of his own party and told that, for the good of the party and for the good of the nation, it was time for him to resign.

    I recalled that when Bill Clinton was caught having an affair with a young staffer, there not only was no similar visit from members of his party, but they stood outside enmasse and defended his decision to fight his removal. It was pathetic.

    That told me a lot about the difference in the two parties and their relative integrity.

    I mention this in the context of the Koch situation because there are people in this town, in the press, who know of a very similar situation that involved a member of the Minnesota congressional delegation who also had an affair with their staffer.

    Like with Bill Clinton, there was no confrontation with members of the politician’s party demanding resignation. In fact, the strategy was to hush up the affair that broke up two families. And the local and national press complied with the wishes of the democrat party to keep it all under wraps. And to this day, the politician sits in congress and their constituents have no idea that they are just as guilty of the acts that Ms. Koch has allegedly committed.

    And that’s the REAL double standard.

  5. Submitted by David Willard on 12/16/2011 - 10:43 pm.

    As our fearful Governor stares into the headlights….

  6. Submitted by Tony George on 12/16/2011 - 11:07 pm.

    These latest developments are a problem, but the bigger problem for Minnesota is the Koch brothers’ infestation of the Minnesota legislature.

  7. Submitted by Walter Hudson on 12/16/2011 - 11:26 pm.

    The principle underlying the marriage issue is not contingent upon anyone’s behavior. The definition of marriage doesn’t rest upon the faithfulness of Amy Koch.

    At issue in the marriage debate is the freedom of conscience, not the “sanctity” of marriage. Sanctity cannot be legislated. The marriage amendment bolsters current law as a defensive measure against those who would force individuals and organizations to act against their conscience, or punish them for expressing their religious or political beliefs.

  8. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 12/17/2011 - 12:31 am.

    Let’s not forget that the MN GOP is in financial disarray too.

    They don’t just have a marriage problem. They have a real challenge painting themselves as good fiscal managers while the state Party is in hock for over $500,000.

  9. Submitted by Lora Jones on 12/17/2011 - 07:26 am.

    Good lord Dennis, talk about false equivalences — Nixon was running a criminal enterprise out of the White House! Whether that ever entered into the calculations of the people who urged he step down is less clear — the man was quickly devolving into full blown paranoia — party faithful had reasons other than his immoral and illegal actions to want him tucked away someplace where he couldn’t do more damage.

    I, quite frankly, don’t care about Koch’s sexual peccadillos any more than I ever cared about Clinton’s. If the “relationship” is merely “inappropriate,” and doesn’t involve force or abuse of power, I say have at it. If you, and your spouse if there is one involved, can live with it, have at it.

    I can’t help but wonder whether Dennis is nearly correct about one thing: I doubt the good old boys of the GOP would have intervened as they did if the Leader had been a man. Nothing in the GOP’s treatment of Vitter or Gingrich indicates that they have any particilar objection to the immoral behavior of male party members. Either the Gang of Four was ham-fisted and got a result they really didn’t expect when Koch resigned, or there’s someone or someones who are using this to increase their own power in the party or the senate. I suspect the latter — Koch did not look all that happy about carrying the party’s water to the bitter end of a government shut down.

  10. Submitted by Rolf Westgard on 12/17/2011 - 09:17 am.

    This is hilarious. Led by Gingrich and Koch, the Republicans are insuring our marriage morals with a constitutional amendment. Let’s hope the Koch affair helps give that amendment the vote drubbing it deserves. If the Pubbies had any integrity, they would withdraw the amendment scheme.

  11. Submitted by Rolf Westgard on 12/17/2011 - 09:19 am.

    Dennis, the issue isn’t how many of your self righteous Senators stood up to the evil doer. The issue is your party trying to force its misguided views of family values on others.

  12. Submitted by Jeff Pricco on 12/17/2011 - 09:43 am.

    Do the words “hoist” and “petard” come to mind?
    All that is missing is a picture of the 4 senator scolds robed in black ala 17th century Massachusetts, and a red “A” branded on Ms. Koch’s brow.

    No doubt the details will come forward as the election season comes near. Lust always finds its fulfillment in one way or another, be it of a carnal type or a political power type. Pharisees. Problems indeed.

  13. Submitted by Brian Turner on 12/17/2011 - 10:12 am.

    The marriage debate IS about freedom of conscience. Indeed, for hundreds if not thousands of years, the collective conscience of religion, and more recently the Republican party, has imposed a system of belief and behavior into human culture that has denied the reality of humankind.

    For as long as there have been people, there have been gay people. Gay predates religions and republics and parties. It’s a part of who we are. It’s ironic that there is worry about conscience being imposed, since for gay people everywhere, that has been a reality for far too long.
    It’s time to allow conflicting consciences to live and thrive side by side.

    And let’s get there through healthy debate, not influenced by superstition and beliefs that grew from seeds of ignorance – of not knowing.
    That said, one half of the debate is not well served by allegations of infidelity. Of trust thrown out the door.

  14. Submitted by Andrew Heil on 12/17/2011 - 10:14 am.

    @ Dennis Tester:

    Let me correct your revisionist history — the Watergate Scandal blew wide open in March and April 1973, when the President was named an unindicted co-conspirator, and U.S. Attorneys announced that upper-level White House officials, from the Presidential Counsel to the Chief of Staff, were part of the cover-up. It was then that the stonewalling began: the refusal to release unedited tapes, the Saturday Night Massacre, to the release of selectively-edited transcripts to the House Judiciary Committee approval of articles of impeachment. Through all of this, the GOP stood by President Nixon. It wasn’t until the GOP realized that Nixon was going to be removed from office (Goldwater told the President he had no more than half a dozen votes in the Senate opposing removal from office) after the release of the “smoking gun” tape on August 5, 1974. Nixon was gone — he only chose the way out.

    The ridiculous false equivalency ignores the fact that Clinton was never in danger of removal. He did exactly what Nixon did, refusing to capitulate when there was no danger of his losing his office. Things got much worse under Nixon, of course — not surprising, for there is no equivalency between political corruption/abuse of power (Nixon), and seeking to keep details of private relationships private (Clinton).

    I say kudos to the GOP for their swift reaction to these developments. Unlike you, however, I understand that such a reaction isn’t the saintly virtuosity you’re trying to spin but simply a pragmatic political reaction.

  15. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 12/17/2011 - 10:39 am.

    Dennis Tester, you’re completely off base. What really matters here is the hypocrisy of the Republican Party. They act holier than thou about everything and they can’t seem to do any of it themselves. They say that one-man and one-woman families are sacred, yet they cheat just as often as anyone else. They say you have to manage money, and they run a government that borrows constantly and can’t even run their own party in the black. I don’t remember Bill Clinton condemning single mother families like Dan Quayle did. I don’t remember Democrats jumping on Larry Craig to resign. It’s like there are two sets of rules: one applies to rich, white Republicans, which are very flexible, and one set that is rigid and applies to the great unwashed.

  16. Submitted by scott gibson on 12/17/2011 - 10:45 am.

    For #4, forget your attempt to make this some kind of equivalency test on the relative morality of Republicans vs Democrats. The Nixon incident and the Clinton incident are not remotely the same, as has been mentioned. Having a consensual affair is not an impeachable offense. Nixon was asked to leave as much for political reasons as any moral ones. I care not, personally if Amy Koch is having an affair with an adult staffer. It’s between her and her family. She can keep her job. It was the other senators who were probably worried about appearances and/or had designs on her power. Her resignation may have been more of a response than they expected. We don’t really know what went on. From my political position, I am not unhappy the GOP is floundering a bit, but I feel no personal enmity towards Mrs. Koch.

    As to #7, I understand your concern. There is a way to resolve this, but it is too dramatic a change to be likely to occur. The government (all levels) should get out of the ‘marriage’ business. If all couples (straight or not) only got some kind of ‘civil union’ recognition and marriage was left as a ceremony for different faiths, the problem would be solved. All the hand wringing would end.

  17. Submitted by James Hamilton on 12/17/2011 - 11:03 am.

    Once again, the world moves on to judgment without any real information. If Koch had an inappropriate workplace relationship with a subordinate, she’s suffering some of the consequences already. What the other person has to say about it, and what he chooses to do about it, remain to be seen.

    It’s her call whether to run for re-election. Again, she knows more than any of us about the nature of the relationship. I suspect we’ll know more than we want to by the time this ends. Obviously, if the relationship was sexual or romantic and was an act of infidelity, then it carries some extra freight because of the standard’s she’s publicly set for herself and others.

    Whether we’re talking about Bill Clinton or Amy Koch, we’re talking about human beings, people who put themselves on pedestals in order to garner our support. When they fall, they fall farther and harder than the rest of us, publicly and, perhaps, personally.

    Let’s give it a rest and get on with more important matters, on all sides.

  18. Submitted by scott gibson on 12/17/2011 - 11:05 am.

    Republicans are fond of implying that Democrats are somehow morally challenged. Will they continue such charges when/if serial adulterer Gingrich is their party’s nominee vs the longtime married Obama? If they were as principled as they like to claim, the churlish Gingrich would be dead in the water. It becomes clear that morals are subservient to political aims. That’s a charge I would make against both parties.

  19. Submitted by Cecil North on 12/17/2011 - 11:07 am.

    Dennis, enough with the revisionist history. Nixon resigned because he was about to be impeached and he knew that he was going down. As for the Koch resignation being some kind of victory for the MN GOP, give it up. Like they say, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

  20. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/17/2011 - 11:28 am.

    # 9 Lora: You nailed it I think.

    But let’s not overlook the fact that Koch is not resigning from the Senate immediately, just from the leadership position. She’s be around in public office well into next year through the legislative session serving as a constant reminder of the “integrity” and “values” of the Republican Party.

  21. Submitted by Rosalie O'Brien on 12/17/2011 - 11:35 am.

    Walter Hudson, I agree with your first four sentences. But how do you get from extending the societal benefits that accompany civil recognition of marital love between two persons to “forc[ing] individuals and organizations to act against their conscience”? You’ve got it backwards! When a society recognizes a marriage between two persons, it’s the two persons who are acting, not the rest of the polity. It’s the exclusion of those who don’t meet a a mean, arbitrary, and baseless exclusionary standard that would constitute an “act.” Those who are opposed to gay marriage can express their religious and political beliefs to their hearts’ content, so long as they don’t unfairly discriminate against others.

  22. Submitted by Jared Hoke on 12/17/2011 - 11:40 am.

    It’s going to be very hard for progressives hereabouts to not take delicious pleasure in this turning of the tables. Hypocrisy, however, wears no party label.

    What would be excellent would be for EVERYONE to keep our eyes on the ball: efficient, clearheaded administration of the people’s business, and an end to all the purity posturing and “family values” horse manure.

  23. Submitted by Loretta Holscher on 12/17/2011 - 11:46 am.

    Power and control is what this is all about.

  24. Submitted by Cecil North on 12/17/2011 - 11:50 am.

    David #5 “As our fearful Governor stares into the headlights….”

    …of an oncoming non sequitur?

  25. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/17/2011 - 02:49 pm.

    “The issue is your party trying to force its misguided views of family values on others.”

    The problem with this society isn’t too much morality. Regardless of what Amy Koch is alleged to have done, the people will attempt to reverse that trend by reaffirming the definition of marriage.

  26. Submitted by Pete Barrett on 12/17/2011 - 03:42 pm.

    Of course, when Congressman Weiner was caught with his pants down, conservatives said nothing. Wait, maybe they called for his ouster at the tops from their lungs.

    What comes around goes around, baby.

    The Republicans have no family values, ran up deficits when they ran Washington DC, and they wrote rubber checks here in Minnesota. These folks have nothing to run on.

  27. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/17/2011 - 04:38 pm.

    The question is why Koch and the GOP leadership chose to go public with this. What were they trying to pre-empt? A workplace lawsuit by the unnamed staffer?

  28. Submitted by Daniel Hinkley on 12/17/2011 - 06:00 pm.

    Good Grief. The GOP, family values and the sanctity of marriage. So many clowns. Not enough circuses.

  29. Submitted by mark wallek on 12/17/2011 - 06:49 pm.

    So this is what a family values/moral lifestyle platform looks like. It’s a wonder that, apart from wanting a bigger bite out of the proverbial american hamburger, people think there is any difference in the socalled “peoples representatives” of the republican and democrat parties. We seem to somehow elect large numbers of socially crippled, ethically lacking individuals. I wonder why this is.

  30. Submitted by larry boss on 12/17/2011 - 08:12 pm.

    Paul, “The question is why Koch and the GOP leadership chose to go public with this”.

    They didn’t go public – a staffer leaked the story to WCCO so they had to get out front because their cover up was blown to pieces.

  31. Submitted by Matthew Allen on 12/18/2011 - 12:01 am.

    Yes, the WCCO story forced the quick press conference. Please compare statements by Koch (and other GOPers) before and after the forced presser. Their stories change rapidly. I found Ms. Koch’s responses particularly hard to reconcile:
    first, retiring for only for vague family, then, resigning in quick, quiet dishonor. The EASE of which she changed her stories is instructive.

  32. Submitted by Erik Jensen on 12/18/2011 - 07:24 am.

    I don’t think there is any sexism involved here, this is the one issue that the GOP is consistent on. The GOP has run other male leaders out of leadership positions that have had dalliances outside of marriage before. Sen. Michel is a coming up with a bogus cover story. This is not an “inappropriate relationship” issue – there is no evidence of coercion, her subordinate involved (it appears) was a close political ally and lieutenant, not some entry-level at-will employee.

    The issue is, Republican base voters actually care about this nonsense and are making a big deal about it, esp with their anti-gay amendment. Of course, the press and the public will notice hypocrisy, so the GOP had to act.

    The vast majority of Democrats and independents don’t give a rip, esp about a heterosexual affair. So Michel has to come up with this silly story about “appropriate” relationships in the workplace.

    All I can say is…I’m so happy for the right wing’s troubles and distractions.

  33. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 12/18/2011 - 09:05 am.

    Yet another hypocritical politician announces she is stepping down to spend more time with her family. I don’t expect the family is looking for more time with her at this point. What has she done that they would want to spend more time with her? Amy was not a leader. Leaders lead, obstructionism is not leadership. Replacing her will not be difficult because the republican world is saturated with just say “no” politicians right now. If they are looking for a moderate republican who can work with others, can work beyond the bogus republican talking points, then it will be difficult to find a real leader. Just maybe her brand of republicanism is coming to and end. The republicans have a real opportunity to change directions right now or the voters will change their direction for them next year. Lets see if there are any responsible adults in the republican party anymore. Top to bottom the republicans are flailing in the wind trying to find something that will stick for them. Try working with others instead of against them. The electorate is starting to wake up so it is time for the republicans to start working for the entire state not just the 1% at the top.

  34. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/18/2011 - 09:27 am.

    Exactly — they commented publicly, rather than just saying no comment, or we won’t respond to unsubstantiated rumours.

  35. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/18/2011 - 10:17 am.

    Dennis (#26) A complicating factor in the right-left morality issue is that liberals and conservatives hold differing visions of what a good person is.

    Liberals value the qualities of love of others, kindness, patience, acceptance, loyalty, generosity, and refusing to be judgmental.

    Many people who call themselves conservative value most of the same qualities but also seem to consider obedience to the rules to prevail in moral decision-making when kindness might suggest a different action to liberals.

  36. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/18/2011 - 11:28 am.

    People forget that we’re electing human beings to represent us. Aside from the political hypocrisy, anymore would be piling on.

  37. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/18/2011 - 01:28 pm.

    “Liberals value the qualities of love of others, kindness, patience, acceptance, loyalty, generosity, and refusing to be judgmental.”

    Someone needs to get that memo over the David Shultz and his liberal collegues at Hamline University.

  38. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/19/2011 - 10:27 am.

    I wouldn’t give a flying fart as to Amy Koch’s personal life. EXCEPT for the fact that she is the one who decided to be in a group that publicly decries gay marriage as being a threat to “traditional” marriage. Uh huh. When you’re done picking up the pieces of your family due to your infidelity, then tell me what the real threat to traditional marriage is.

    Though, it occurs to me that “traditional” marriage might mean a marriage between a man and a woman and any affairs they might wish. If so, then let’s quit pretending that this is about morals. It is and will always be about using the bigotry of others to buy votes. No one would care except that the religious right are pretty faithful voters (pun not intended).

  39. Submitted by Lee Jones on 12/19/2011 - 02:39 pm.

    I’m sure there’s a big bit in the bible about infidelity. Actually there’s a lot more in Bible 101 about being faithful than being gay.

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