New MN Senate Leader Takes Over With Slim Majority

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The state Senate’s incoming Republican majority leader is keeping the GOP’s heavy losses in 2012 in mind as he settles into his role as one of the most powerful people in Minnesota politics.

Paul Gazelka was chosen as Senate Majority leader by fellow GOPers after Republicans won control of the Senate last week. He’ll manage a thin, one-seat majority so long as there are no surprises in a pair of automatic recounts in Senate districts that lean Republican’s way, joining Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt at the negotiating table with Gov. Mark Dayton.

But despite his own views — Gazelka is a pro-gun, anti-abortion and supports traditional marriage — he told Minnesota Public Radio News that his legislative agenda won’t look like 2011 and 2012, the last time Republican had full control of the Legislature. After spearheading failed constitutional amendments to require voter ID at the polls and ban same-sex marriage, Democrats took back control of both chambers.

“I think there was an exuberance about we can change everything,” Gazelka said. “Those of us that are still here realize that you can’t get everything done right away. It doesn’t work as well that way. So, we really are interested in building consensus and moving toward the things that we know we need to accomplish.”

A Nisswa senator entering his fourth term, Gazelka had no plans of a leadership role prior to last week. But the spot was opened when the Senate GOP’s previous leader, Sen. David Hann, lost his re-election bid in his Eden Prairie seat. Despite that loss and another Republican loss in Lakeville, Republicans beat eight Democratic incumbents to take back the majority.

Minneapolis Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble isn’t convinced that legislation on controversial social issues is off the table in 2017. Dibble, who is gay, authored the 2013 bill that legalized same-sex marriage.

“These bills are going to be heard and they’re going to be passed and they’re going to be put on the governor’s desk,” Dibble said. “It’s going to be very, very painful and very, very difficult for a lot of Minnesotans, because they’re going to be told by the Legislature that they don’t count.”

But Gazelka says the Republican Senate’s priorities are focused: tackling a health care crisis amid exploding costs and shrinking access, transportation funding and tax relief.

The Legislature’s main task in 2017 will be passing a two-year budget that will get Dayton’s signature. Gazelka said he’s encouraged that he and the democratic governor are friendly with one another.

“We have goodwill to start,” he said.

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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