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.
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.”
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.
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.