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Senjem defends GOP caucus actions, calls Dayton’s criticisms ‘grossly unfair’

Sen. Majority Leader David Senjem spoke to reporters at the legislative leaders' weekly briefing.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem defended his caucus Friday from attacks that Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL lawmakers have leveled over the past two weeks.

The Republican leader also said he’s confident a controversial constitutional amendment proposal that would require a photo ID for voters will move forward smoothly in the Senate.

At legislative leaders’ weekly briefing, he stood up, too, for Senate Republicans’ decision to oust Dayton appointee Ellen Anderson as chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission.

“This week was difficult for all of us in the sense that to not confirm a governor’s appointee is not an easy thing to do,” Senjem said.

The governor, freshly angered by the Senate rejection of Anderson, told reporters on Monday that Republicans “showed once again that they are unfit to govern this state.”

Senjem today called the governor’s remarks “grossly unfair” and added:  “I do think we are fit to lead. I do think we are fit to govern. I think his comments were literally over the top in terms of his characterization of our work.”

A ‘watch list’

In signs of potential new trouble, though, Senjem said two other of Dayton’s agency heads are on a  “watch list”: Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and Paul Aasen, head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Senjem said that Sen. David Hann, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, had some concerns about Jesson, the engineer of the Dayton administration’s wide expansion into federal health care.

“They are the only ones on the watch list,” Senjem said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t confirm them. We just need to get to know them a little bit better.”

He also said that Dayton’s criticisms wouldn’t tarnish theirworking  relationship.

“We’ll get over it. We have thick skin,” Senjem said. “You won’t hear it from our side. You won’t hear it from me, I’ll tell you that.”

More constitutional amendments?

Senjem also said he’s confident a Voter ID proposal would join the controversial marriage amendment on the November ballot.

The Voter ID amendment, which had its first hearing Wednesday in the Senate, drew strong criticism from most who testified.  More testimony will be taken next week.

Another controversial proposal – a right-to-work constitutional amendments also drew criticism this week from DFLers and labor representatives.

The majority leader said he would prefer that there be three or fewer ballot questions but said the final total is unclear at this point.

“We don’t want to clutter the ballot with amendments that aren’t going to pass,” Senjem said.

Also on Friday, DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said Republicans should focus on jobs, rather than on legislating through the Constitution.

Brodkorb legal issues

Senjem said he learned from reporters Friday that the Senate has a written contract with outside counsel for legal defense against potential litigation from former staffer Michael Brodkorb.

Brodkorb, a top caucus aide fired in December, has hired two law firms. He departed the caucus shortly after Sen. Amy Koch stepped down as majority leader after acknowledging that she had an improper relationship with an unnamed staff member.

Top GOP officials have not publicly identified the staffer, and Senjem again declined to do so on Friday. Little is known about the current legal wrangling concerning Brodkorb.

The lack of detail prompted a letter Tuesday from Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk requesting that Senjem convene the Rules and Administration Committee to discuss the matter. Assistant Senate Minority Leader Terri Bonoff renewed that call Friday.

The Senate Democrats have criticized Senjem for allowing Cal Ludeman, the secretary of the Senate, to spend money on legal advice at the same time that the the DFL Senate caucus has been required to drastically cut its budget.

It’s unclear if the Senate’s contract with the law firm will be released.

“It’s too early,” Senjem said. “I don’t know if it’s a public document.”


Correction

The original story incorrectly listed one of the two commissioners on the GOP “watch list.” The two are Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and Paul Aasen, head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

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