Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Recent legislative events prompt questions about who’s in charge of GOP senators

MinnPost photo by James Nord

Senate Majority leader David Senjem leads a strong-willed Republican caucus.

Politics abhors a vacuum. Yet, as the legislative session continues to grind toward a conclusion, a vacuum seems to exist as to who is in charge of the Senate Republican caucus.

Dave Senjem, the affable Rochester fellow, has the title of Senate majority leader. But is he really in charge?

Conversations with lobbyists and Republican and DFL senators — all of whom for obvious reasons would only comment without attribution — suggest that Senjem probably has only limited power in speaking for his caucus.

One DFL senator described the Republicans power situation this way: “It’s a little like Somalia. Nobody’s really in charge. What you have are a bunch of warlords.”

Others agreed with that assessment.  Sens. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen, David Hann of Eden Prairie and Dave Thompson, the brash first-termer from Lakeville, are among the warlords.

For the last few days, Ortman of Chanhassen, has seemed like the most powerful player in the Senate because of the way she has held up the progress of the Vikings stadium bill by first calling for the bill to be heard before the taxes committee she chairs and then by delaying a committee meeting on it.

But is she the most powerful Republican senator?

“She’d like to be,” said a fellow Republican colleague.

Another Republican, however, said Senate power is not Ortman’s immediate issue.

Sen. Julianne OrtmanMinnPost photo by James NordSen. Julianne Ortman has played a key role this week on the Vikings stadium issue.

“She’s got an endorsement issue,” a veteran Republican senator explained. “She’s in a very difficult position.”

In fairness to Ortman, she has been consistent in her push for a tax bill that would give property tax relief to state businesses. For months, she has pressed this tax relief as a jobs bill, the thinking being that businesses across the state will use the tax relief to expand.

(DFLers counter that it would be out-of-state corporations that would benefit the most. Beyond that, it would create another hole in the state budget.)

That issue is the one big bargaining chip Republicans have in trying to negotiate an end to the session with Gov. Mark Dayton.

They believe he’ll concede on taxes to get the stadium and a bonding bill. Certainly, Ortman has played that chip for all that it’s worth.

Legislators in both the House and Senate have essentially been sitting on their hands waiting for Ortman’s committee to hear the Vikings bill.

Her committee finally is sitting down for a hearing this afternoon.

The delay has created timing problems for the GOP.  At the start of the week, the titular heads of the caucuses had hoped to finish up their work by Saturday. Now, the talk is of Monday – or Tuesday.

The question now is whether House Republicans would take up on the stadium on the floor Saturday.

One thing that would prevent that is an anti-tax rally scheduled for Saturday. The rally will feature two heroes of the small-government crowd, Grover Norquist and former Republican Party presidential candidate Herman Cain. That’s not the crowd that looks favorably upon such things as publicly subsidized stadiums.

As a matter of fact, Capitol speculation is growing that the House might take up the stadium bill late Friday to avoid taking a vote during the rally.

One quick aside about Cain, who once called Minneapolis home. He was a fairly well-known gospel singer in Minneapolis. (He’s got the great pipes.)

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, was talking of how his mother recalls Cain the singer.

“She wants me to ask Cain one question,’’ Hayden said, laughing. “She wants me to ask, ‘What happened to you?’ ”

But back to that original question: Who’s in charge among Minnesota Senate Republicans?

There appears to be a split, right down the middle of the caucus.

There’s the tea-party group — mostly newcomers — and the old guard.

It’s clear that Thompson likes the spotlight, a fact that causes great consternation among veteran GOP senators.  Once upon a time, freshmen senators were to be seen but not heard.

“Apparently,” said one GOP senate veteran, “he never learned that.”

Thompson is a loose cannon, a favorite of reporters because of his sometimes inflamatory quotes.

But, according to a longtime lobbyist, it’s Hann who probably is top warlord of the most conservative faction of Senate Republicans.  He is able to move, relatively easily, among the social conservatives, the Tea Party group and the more traditional Republicans.

“He understands the process, and he’ll actually listen to you,” the lobbyist said.

The one thing that brings all the warlords together is opposition to the stadium deal. (They will be joined in attempting to block the stadium by the DFL’s most liberal members.)

Who’s in charge around here?

We probably won’t know until sometime next week.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

About the Author:

Comments (10)


Beginning at this year's Precinct Caucuses, the Minnesota Republican Party has been taken over by the Paulitites, whose pro-legalization of drugs stance will very likely put them at odds with BOTH the old guard and the Tea Party folks.

When it comes to maintaining the support of those whose help they'll need in their fall campaigns, I can't help but wonder how good our Republican legislators are at hitting a target that's moving rapidly enough to make your head spin.


You don't understand Dr. Paul and his crew. They believe in liberty, which includes the idea that government has no right to tell you what you may or may not ingest. That doesn't mean they're pushing for legalization as an issue. It's simply a principle. I recognize you people don't know anything about principle, but that's what it is.

"you people"?

"you people"?


Actually, it's more like interest.

MN republican party

A small ship without a rudder.

The republicans have their answer

The republicans couldn't figure out if they should cozy up to the tea party. They now have their answer. The tea party has lead to nothing but chaos in the republican party. Not even the life long republicans can stand their own party's nonsense. The party moderates have been driven out and the party is going nowhere until they return. The republicans can't even figure out a way to pay something as simple as rent. Their rent only serves republicans and they screwed that up. How do they ever expect to run a state? Do you suppose wrong headed positions on everything and social engineering have anything to do with their low finances? Voters, the republicans are giving you a very strong message, they are out of control and totally inept. Unless you want the same thing the next time around you better vote for someone else in November.

Republican Party

I think they will go down in defeat in the elections. I know many of my friends who have been long time Republicans have been alienated by the current group of Republican legislators. In some case they can't see the forest for the trees. A good example is the Viking Stadium. Most of my friends, old timers if you will, feel that is a no brainer and a way to create thousands of jobs over a couple of year period and then becoming a financial asset. We also agree that very few if any, have strategic business knowledge and some of there ideas, like property tax relief for businesses will create jobs is astounding. Those of us who have held executive positions, know that any relief from property taxes, will probably pay for a couple of employee picnics and a Christmas party. I don't think any of know what costs to create one job. They also don't know the difference between creating a job and filling an open position. I also don't know where all the name calling came from. At times some of them sound like spoiled 3 year olds.

Turtleneck legislators

Style file: Serious issues deserve serious fashion. Turtlenecks are not serious, especially mock ones. Ryan O'Neal wore a chunky Harvard-looking one to great acclaim in Love Story. After graduating from law school and landing a Manhattan job, he upgraded to nice, trim suits. Minnesota legislators should follow his lead. Do fashionable policy makers matter? A lot. By chucking the ten-year-old mock turtleneck you can support local shops and create abundance. You also create an aura of authority. Consider the Queen. She's been steadfast in her wardrobe: head-to-toe color, neat dresses, matching hats and gloves, and handle handbags. If our legislators put some EGO into their dress, they could put their ID to work and create ego-less legislation, unencumbered by piety and petty slogans.

Strategic business knowledge = Subsidies to billionaires

LMAO. This comment won't be approved either by the Orwellian MinnPost Authorties.

What are you people trying to hide??

There are three parties

Not two, DFL, GOP and Tea/Paul and the do not coexist cleanly.