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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published December 17 2011

Minnesota Political Notebook: Senator’s resignation comes as shock to colleagues

ST. PAUL - Amy Koch’s resignation as Minnesota Senate majority leader came like a lightning bolt out of the blue.

And it may have been even more shocking when word leaked out Friday that she is accused of having an improper relationship with a male Senate employee.

“That would be a surprise to me,” Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said when told of the allegations. “I have always found her to be a very upstanding individual.”

Reporters could almost hear jaws drop Thursday night as they informed senators of the news when calling to get reaction. Many senators had not checked their email, and reporters knew about Koch’s move – and wrote stories about it – before the word spread.

“You have the scoop on me,” Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, told a reporter.

In a Thursday night interview, Koch was vague about just why she left the job: “It is time to move on to other opportunities.”

As she moves on, Republicans senators are moving on to find a new leader.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, is interim leader after the Senate GOP leadership team moved him from deputy.

Under their bylaws, Republican senators must pick a new leader by Dec. 29. And since the bylaws say senators must be present to vote, quite a few holiday trips likely will be altered to fit in a new vote.

An email Michel sent to fellow senators appeared to indicate a vote probably will take place the week after Christmas.

The majority party – the Republicans, for the first time in 38 years – picks its leader, who then becomes leader of the entire Senate.

Koch was the first woman to hold that job.

Quick session

Minnesota legislators plan a short session next year, with a couple of extended breaks.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, released the legislative calendar Republicans who control the Legislature have drafted. It features a nearly weeklong break in early February for precinct caucuses, after convening for the year on Jan. 24.

Another week will be taken off for Easter and Passover in April before lawmakers go home for the year on April 30.

There is nothing to prevent the Legislature from meeting after April 30 or even quitting earlier. The constitutional requirement to adjourn is May 21.

The Legislature has not adjourned in April since 1998.

There is plenty of speculation that lawmakers will be eager to leave St. Paul as soon as possible next year because a court panel is scheduled to release new legislative and congressional district maps on Feb. 21, and legislators will want to be free to get to know their new districts.

Also, they cannot raise campaign funds while the Legislature is in session.

Here are key dates for the session:

‘Brother’ surprised

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, was saying that he thinks of Amy Koch as a sister at the same time Koch was preparing to send out a letter saying she was resigning as Senate majority leader.

But “brother” Zellers did not know Koch’s plans. Minutes after the Zellers interview ended, the Senate Republican office released her resignation letter to senators, staff and reporters.

Mobile debate again

There never was any doubt that Minnesota legislators would debate in 2012 whether drivers should be banned from using mobile telephones, but a National Transportation Safety Board’s call for such action nationwide draws more attention to the issue.

“A study released just last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that at any given moment approximately 13.5 million people are using their cell phones while driving,” Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “With nearly 6,000 deaths and a half a million injuries caused by distracted drivers every year, this is simply unacceptable.”

Hornstein, author of a bill to ban drivers’ cellphone use, said it is “a common-sense solution in reducing traffic accidents. Studies show that using cellphones while driving can have the same impact of driving while intoxicated.”

Wolf dispute

A decision to keep control of the gray wolf at the federal level upset U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.

“It is outrageous that the White House and Senate Democrat leadership turned their backs on Midwest farmers and livestock producers by refusing to return wolf management to the states,” Kline said. “We must cut through bureaucratic red tape and provide greater flexibility by giving states exclusive jurisdiction over the wolves within their own borders.”

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.