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Dave Senjem faces difficult re-election campaign

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem

Being the popular leader of the Senate majority caucus and the chair of a committee empowered to help the local constituency is a major advantage in running for re-election.  Except when it’s not.

That’s the conundrum confronting Dave Senjem as he faces a surprisingly competitive campaign to retain his seat representing Rochester and Olmsted and Dodge counties.

The challenges come from inside and outside the Capitol corridors.

First, there’s Olmsted County Commissioner Judy Ohly, who will run for the Senate seat as a DFLer. She’s seen as an effective commissioner and a strong, even formidable, candidate.

“I have the tools that would make an excellent senator and I care passionately about the community,” she said.

Her statement touches on a potential soft spot in Senjem’s re-election arguments.  As Ohly frames it, Rochester deserves a lot more love from St. Paul.

“We haven’t been getting our fair share,” she said.  

What Rochester wants, Senjem can deliver in abundance, not only as Senate majority leader but as chair of the Capital Investment Committee that will recommend projects to include in a state bonding bill.

Herein lies Senjem’s dilemma. He serves not only his district but also the GOP caucus, which wants only the barest bones of a bonding bill.

Senjem did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.

Key project

According to Ohly, there are several worthy Rochester projects that belong on that list, most important  is the renovation of the Mayo Civic Center.

“We are a world-class medical community. We could be having national and international conventions, but we can’t,” she said. “If it’s not in the bonding bill this year, we are going to lose.”

Judy Ohly
Judy Ohly

Regardless of the outcome of the bonding bill, there is no doubt about Senjem’s loyalty to and love for the district he’s served for the past 10 years.  “Rochester is extremely proud that he’s a leader, rightfully proud,” says Amy Koch, the Senate majority leader Senjem replaced.

Koch’s Senate District 19 in the northwest metro is ideal for holding a leadership post as a Republican. Solidly conservative, the district presents no opposing forces. 

That’s not the case with Senate District 29. The metro-rural mix, exemplified in the high-tech campuses of the Mayo Clinic and the area’s agricultural base, require a legislative balancing act. Senjem has always managed the mix well, but now he faces a greater challenge. With redistricting, Senate District 29 becomes District 25 and has a population that leans more DFL.

Become a sustaining member today

Ohly argues it’s time for a change. “I think it’s time to have some new blood,” she said.

But even among some Democrats, Senjem is a favorite son. And Senjem’s long service, and the fact that he’s one of the most powerful people in state government, will go a long way in the campaign this summer.

Senjem’s first campaign step, however, is this spring in St. Paul, where he will direct his caucus’s stab at a bonding bill. The number of Rochester projects in that bill may well be a key to what happens later.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/15/2012 - 10:12 am.

    Over All the Years They Were in the Minority

    Our Republican friends worked diligently to place a target on the back of EVERY DFL legislative member who demonstrated visible leadership on any issue (or, in some, cases, just voted for non-controversial bills that could be twisted to sound evil).

    They worked long and hard to cultivate this approach to MN Governance. They made this bed. Shouldn’t they now be taking pride and great pleasure in the rest and comfort it provides? (snark intended)

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/15/2012 - 12:59 pm.

    Tip O’Neill

    …said it best. “All politics is local.”

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/15/2012 - 01:01 pm.

    ah yes, the standard DFL campaign slogan

    “We haven’t been getting our fair share” of other people’s money. she said

    • Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 03/15/2012 - 10:53 pm.


      Fair share of what they pay, Rochester pays a lot of taxes as do Minneapolis and St. Paul. Suburbs and outstate are freeloaders.

  4. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 03/15/2012 - 05:10 pm.

    Senjem can’t be blamed for Koch/Brodkorb…

    …so far as I know, but the mess since then, he has some explaining to do. The gutting on just one party’s staff, the humiliating inability to defend their position when removing Ellen Anderson, make-it-up-as-you-go procedures for the right-to-freeload amendment, that’s on him.

  5. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 04/03/2012 - 11:01 am.

    Go back into hiding, please!!!

    “Rochester is extremely proud that he’s a leader, rightfully proud,” says Amy Koch. Wonder how the people of Buffalo feel about their leader?

  6. Submitted by William Pappas on 04/07/2012 - 03:58 pm.


    Brucato tells us Senjem can deliver bonding projects in spades but the reality is that he can’t. His caucus won’t let him. They are to obsessed with preserving tax cuts for the wealthy and business in the wrong headed notion that this will make business and economic activity flourish. If Senjem is crippled by his party and chained to a radical conservative agenda then Brucato is dead wrong about his ability to deliver. No conservative in Minnesota can deliver projects without democratic help.

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