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Senjem: Koch should stay in Senate; St. Cloud could benefit from new bonding bill

Senjem: Koch should stay in Senate; St. Cloud could benefit from new bonding bill Click to Enlarge Photo:

Dec 29, 2011 at 11:26 am

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - New Minnesota state senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem hopes his ousted predecessor Amy Koch will survive her recent controversy and remain in the Senate through the new legislative session.

"I've encouraged her to stay. I think that she's got a lot to offer and she's a good senator, particularly in the areas of energy....I kind of hope she holds in with us and finishes her term," Senjem said Thursday during an interview on KNSI's "Hot Talk with the Ox."

The 69-year-old Republican from Rochester was selected to fill the post following an all-day meeting of Senate Republicans Tuesday.

Senjem said Koch, who stepped down as Senate Majority Leader Dec. 15, was not ostracized by the 37-member Senate GOP caucus she led before an inappropriate relationship with a Senate staffer prompted the resignation from her leadership post.

"(There was) a lot of forgiveness in our caucus (Tuesday)...Going forward is our priority," Senjem said. "We've gone through some difficult times in the last couple weeks, but there are clearer roads ahead and we look forward to the future."

Senjem, who served as the GOP Minority Leader in the Senate before the party took control of that body in the November 2010 election, said he was honored to be choice of his fellow senators to lead them into the new legislative session Jan. 24.

"It's a sense of service...I think I know the ropes, I know the people, I know the process. I think, given the times that we have right now within our caucus, I thought why not step forward and do this and give the caucus the benefit of my experience if they wanted it? And they ultimately chose to want it," Senjem said.

Among the first bills likely to face a closer look by legislators next month, Senjem said, are many that have already been under discussion at the Capitol.

"Photo ID, the idea of a super majority to raise taxes, we'll have those discussions. Obviously, we're going to talk about a Vikings stadium. I'm not sure if initially there will be a bill ready, but that will certainly be on the agenda," Senjem said.

But despite the change in leadership, Senjem said the party agenda would not change for the upcoming session.

"It's the same old stuff. It's jobs and the economy and how do we get Minnesota back to work?" Senjem said.

As for the state's precarious economic situation, Senjem said the Senate would begin with trimming their own fat to the tune of $2 million in operating expenses.

"We'll be doing that in advance of the session. We're making some hard choices and that's what we have to do. The times are such that those kinds of decisions are warranted," Senjem said.

While cuts will continue to be made, investment in infrastructure must continue, Senjem said. That investment could take the form of another state bonding bill during the new session, a bill that could include the $13 million needed to finish the St. Cloud River's Edge Convention Center expansion project.

"We've got a little more debt compacity in our budget. We could do about another $400 million. We have been doing tours around the state, looking at various projects, including a visit to St. Cloud...my speculation is that there will be some level of bonding that will occur this year. There are always needs and we can either choose to ignore them or step forward," Senjem said.

Senjem said Republican lawmakers need to the carry the momentum of a strong legislative session this year into a reaffirmation of their work at the ballot box in November.

"We've got to look forward. We've got to have a good session going into 2012 and beyond. We've got to do a lot of good work in preperations for elections and our eyes on November and being successful in maintaining this majority that we have," Senjem said.

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