Gazelka picked as new GOP state Senate leader

Sen. Paul Gazleka will be the new Republican majority leader in the Minnesota Senate. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Minnesota Senate Republicans selected Sen. Paul Gazelka as their new majority leader Thursday in preparation for the 2017 legislative session and a new power structure at the state Capitol.

Gazelka, who lives in Nisswa, was re-elected this week to a third term in the Senate, in an election that was good for GOP legislative candidates in many areas of the state.

Republicans will have majority status in the Senate for the first time since 2011 and 2012, pending two recounts. It’s also the first time in recent memory that they’ll have the majority for at least a four-year stint.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats voted to keep their leader as Tom Bakk of Cook, though likely with the minority leader title.

During a news conference after the GOP’s leadership vote, Gazelka noted the slim 34-33 advantage over Democrats.

“We’re going to have to figure out a way to work together at some level,” Gazelka said. “We’re going to work with the governor. We’re going to work with the House, and we’re going to do good things for Minnesota.”

Flanked by caucus members, including 12 new GOP senators, Gazleka highlighted the concerns raised statewide about rising health care costs. But he didn’t get into specifics about possible fixes.

“That will be one of the big items that we’re all going to be working on,” he said.

Gazelka also confirmed that Senate Republicans will soon move into the new Senate Office Building, which was a project that they strongly opposed. They refused to make the move last session and remained in the nearby State Office Building.

The current Senate Minority Leader, David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, would have been a likely favorite for majority leader. But he lost his re-election bid Tuesday.

Senate Republicans also announced the selection of Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, as Senate president.

In a statement from the DFL, Bakk referred to the rollercoaster he has had at the head of his caucus — first as minority leader in 2011 through 2012, then majority leader from 2013 on and minority leader for the coming term.

“I am honored to have been elected to multiple leadership positions during my time in the Senate,” Bakk said in a written statement. “It is a great privilege; I do not take lightly, to have the continued confidence of my colleagues. Our vision for Minnesota will include the voices of those who felt disenfranchised by this divisive election.”

House DFLers were meeting Thursday night to pick a leader. Current Minority Leader and former House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said in a statement he wouldn’t seek another stint as caucus boss. “It is time for new voices in leadership to emerge,” he said.

House Republicans were set to meet Friday morning, though there was no indication of challenges to House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Zimmerman or Majority Leader Joyce Peppin of Rogers.

MPR reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.