Sen. Amy Koch steps down as majority leader, will not seek re-election

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

The Minnesota Senate’s first woman majority leader is stepping down.

Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, in a letter today (Dec. 15) to Senate colleagues announced her resignation as majority leader.

Koch today announced she was stepping down as majority leader and that she did not intend to seek reelection next year. (Photo by T.W. Budig) Indeed

Koch, elected to the Senate in a special election in 2005, announced that “after thoughtful conversations with my family and friends” she has decided not to seek reelection. “It was gratifying. It was exhausting. It was all of those things,” said Koch of serving as majority leader, speaking this evening. “I think it was a lot of different things,” said Koch of what prompted her to step down. It was not reasons of personal health. “I’m healthy,” said Koch.

Although not mentioning exactly what she would do in the future, Koch indicated she was looking at business opportunities. Koch has long been considered a possible Republican congressional candidate should Republican Sixth District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann decided not to seek reelection.

But Koch suggested the odds of her running for Congress were unlikely, though not ruling anything out.

Koch was heavily involved in the 2010 election campaign, traveling the state to appear with Republican Senate candidates. Republicans took the Senate away from Democratic control for the first time in almost 40 years. The campaign work was tiring, but Koch indicated that she entered the legislative session in good spirits. “I caught my second wind on November 2,” she quipped.

Koch’s resignation as majority leader took effect immediately.

In the letter, Koch said she felt it important to resign as majority leader because the caucus could not afford a “lame duck” leader in budget negotiations next year. She also wants to give Republicans in Senate District 19 the chance to find a new candidate. She was “very proud,” said Koch, of the accomplishments of Senate Republicans — accomplishments made in a difficult year.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton issued a statement shortly after the news of Koch’s decision became public.

“I personally regret Senator Koch’s decision to step down as Majority Leader of the Minnesota Senate and not to seek reelection. I have developed great respect for her during the past year of working together. She has been an excellent leader of her Caucus and, while we often disagree, a strong advocate for her beliefs,” said Dayton. “I wish Senator Koch my very best for her continued success in future endeavors.”

Republican Party of Minnesota Acting Chairwoman Kelly Fenton also issued a statement on the news Koch is leaving.

“Senator Koch has helped lead our state during these difficult economic times, and her policies have helped bring about a projected surplus in Minnesota,” said Fenton. House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, lamented Koch’s departure. “Amy is a dear friend and I will truly miss working with her on a daily basis. She’s a role model and a natural leader. I wish nothing but the best to Amy and her family,” Zellers said in a statement.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, expressed surprise over Koch’s decision to step down. He had about a 45-minute meeting with Koch yesterday, he said.

“She made no hint of what she would be doing today,” said Nienow. Nienow sensed no lingering resentment or unhappiness in the Senate Republican Caucus, he explained, towards Koch over the results of the legislative session earlier this year — results that included a state government shutdown of historic length this summer.

He styled the ultimate budget agreement reached with Dayton as a “classic” Capitol budget compromise — a plug your nose and vote. Still, Nienow graded the results of the session as a 7 out of 10.

Nienow had taken for granted that Koch would remain the majority leader. But some senators had begun to wonder why the Senate Chief of Staff position had been left open by Koch for some time. Perhaps Koch had decided some time ago to step down and left the position open for her successor to fill, Nienow speculated.

Koch had sometimes complained during session of being tired and questioned whether all the effort was worth it, but he took the talk as typical session “battle fatigue” — the results of sleeping four hours a night, Nienow explained.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said he learned of Koch’s decision to resign during a Republican leadership meeting three hours prior to the release of the letter this afternoon. He was surprised.

“Very much so,” he said. Like Nienow, Thompson had detected no lingering resentment in the Senate Republican caucus over the results of the session, he explained. “No, with a caveat,” said Thompson. He thought they had spent too much money in the state budget. But he voiced his concerns at the time, and moved on, he explained. “Personally, it’s hard not to like her. She’s a lovely person,” said Thompson of Koch.

Asked whether he might want a more visible leadership role in the caucus, Thompson explained Koch’s resignation had been so unexpected that he had never really considered pursuing a top leadership slot. But he wasn’t ruling anything out, he said.

A permanent Senate majority leader must be elected within two weeks, according to Koch.