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Why did Michel wait before dealing with Brodkorb-Koch relationship?

Turmoil in the party may have led Senate Republicans to initially stall, hoping for a quiet resolution.

Sen. Geoff Michel, Sen. Amy Koch, Michael Brodkorb

In her ethics complaint, DFL state Sen. Sandy Pappas wants to know why former deputy Senate majority leader Geoff Michel waited “to take appropriate action to fully and swiftly address the alleged inappropriate relationship between the Senate majority leader and a subordinate Senate employee until its public disclosure was imminent.”

The answer may lie in a timeline of events that led some Senate Republicans to initially stall — hoping for a quiet resolution — then take sudden action after they concluded that further delays in dismantling the powerful Michael Brodkorb-Amy Koch alliance would result in political embarrassment.  

The timeline goes back to Sept. 21, the date that former Senate GOP caucus Chief of Staff Cullen Sheehan says he confronted the pair, who admitted but did not end their relationship. Sheehan, by one account, was almost tearful about the problem he could not solve.

“Your hope is that they’ve been confronted, that they will do the right thing,” Michel, an Edina Republican, said in an interview with me last December. “So, then we knew confronting them does not work. We studied the problem. We had to see what the legal and HR pieces were.”

Abrupt resignation

Then, in October, came Brodkorb’s abrupt resignation as deputy chair of the state Republican Party – just days before the party announced it was deeply in debt. Party Chair Tony Sutton resigned almost immediately after that. At a meeting of the party’s central committee in December to choose Sutton’s replacement, Brodkorb admitted he confronted gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, telling Emmer he had a share of responsibility for the debt.

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The blowup and turmoil in the party appeared to give Senate leadership the opening they wanted to take the action they thought they needed. The move to confront Koch and Brodkorb with a blunt instrument rather than finesse had an additional layer of support from senators who were chafing at Brodkorb’s enthusiasm and skill in negotiations for stadium legislation.  (It should be noted that Michel was also a supporter of stadium legislation and the proposal to pay for the state’s share with gambling revenue.)

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Koch resigned as majority leader Dec. 15. Brodkorb was fired Dec. 16. It wasn’t until a news conference two weeks later that Michel revealed he had blurred the timeline, saying he was trying to protect Sheehan, who left the Senate for a lobbying job. Sheehan now works for Lockridge Grindahl Nauen, a lobbying firm that represents tribal gaming interests and has lobbied against the stadium gambling proposals that Brodkorb had supported. Michel lost his leadership position after the Brodkorb-Koch relationship became public.

A different approach

Pappas sounded sympathetic to Michel’s plight but maintains her caucus would have handled it differently.

“That’s why you have human relations people,” she said. “You go to HR people, say something’s not appropriate and ask: ‘What do you recommend? What should our caucus do?’”

She said the Senate employs just such a non-partisan human resources expert, Wendy Dwyer.

The Senate must hold an ethics hearing within 30 days of the filing of the complaint.  Pappas doesn’t know yet the date of the hearing, nor does she know who, if anyone, including Brodkorb, will testify or whether the committee simply will ask Michel for an apology.

By now, though, those details may be irrelevant to the Senate Republican caucus, which is seeing a mushroom cloud in the political embarrassment it wanted to avoid.