Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka addresses the media in May 2019. (Photo: Kevin Featherly)
Decision comes as Republican leader weighs expected run for governor
With an announcement expected soon that he will run for governor against the incumbent Tim Walz, Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said today that he is stepping down as Senate Majority Leader.
He sent a written statement of resignation to fellow senators on Wednesday morning.
KSTP’s Tom Hauser reported early Wednesday that Gazelka’s resignation was effective immediately, but that he would stay on as majority leader until the caucus elects a replacement.
Gazelka was elected majority leader in 2016, assuming the post in 2017 after the Senate held onto a razor-thin majority in that cycle’s elections. He has been the affable, sometimes steely, always steady leader of his Senate caucus and he has been mulling a run for governor for many months.
His letter of resignation doesn’t mention his potential run for governor. But it does say:
“I plan to be a part of that future success but look forward to letting someone else take over serving as leader while I pursue the next chapter in my political life.”
Comfortable working majority
Gazelka has helmed the Senate during a period of consistently tight GOP majorities—though paddedcto what he calls “a comfortable working majority” by the defection last year of two Democrats, Iron Range senators Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni. The duo has caucused and usually voted with the GOP since becoming independents.
Gazelka has been the face of his party during a time of deep partisan division that increasing has taken on cultural, racial and geographic overtones. He has fanned a certain dogmatism on issues like masking during the pandemic and on what he terms poor Democratic municipal and state leadership following the death of George Floyd.
Gazelka has championed tax cuts, supported voter ID and repeatedly demanded an end to the governor’s emergency powers. He has been a hard brake on pot legalization, gun safety reform and many—though not all—DFL police accountability priorities.
He has also been a dealmaker who worked with the governor and House Speaker Melissa Hortman as a member of the so-called “triumvirate,” to reach budget deals, break legislative logjams and keep state government running, though that work has usually not been completed until well into special-session season.
If he does run for governor, Gazelka would compete to become the state’s first Republican governor since Tim Pawlenty left office in 2011.
Gazelka said at the State Fair last week that he is “leaning” toward gubernatorial bid. He would join ample GOP company. Former GOP state Sen. Scott Jensen, Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, businessman Mike Marti and dermatologist Neil Shah have all previously announced runs.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, the Senate’s Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee chair, was expected to announce her candidacy for governor at 10 a.m. today.
Gazelka issued a written announcement of resignation to Senate members Wednesday morning. It reads:
Five years ago, under bittersweet conditions, I was honored to be elected leader of the Senate Republican Caucus. I have those same bittersweet feelings today as I announce my intention to step aside as your leader.
Outside of my family life, and my faith in God, leading this caucus has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I am so grateful for what we’ve accomplished together:
- Finding agreement on three consecutive budgets without raising taxes, over the strong objections of both Governors Mark Dayton and Tim Walz.
- Cutting income tax rates for the first time in 20 years in addition to tax cuts for Social Security income and small business and agriculture property taxes.
- Blocking an exhaustive list of policies pursued by the DFL that would have slowed the growth in our economy, taken away rights and freedoms and worst of all, harmed our families.
- Growing the caucus from a razor-thin one vote majority in 2017 to a comfortable working majority through special election victories and by strategically attracting centrist Democrats to join our efforts.
- Building a culture of respect in the organization – respect for members in both parties, staff, lobbyists and the public – solidifying our reputation as the “adults in the room.”
- Raising and spending record amounts in the 2020 election, winning back-to-back Republican majorities in the Senate for the first time in history, even in the face of a strong Democratic wave.
These accomplishments were possible because we stuck to our principles and communicated directly with the people of Minnesota. Again, I’m so very grateful for the work we’ve accomplished together and believe the caucus is in a very strong position to be successful in the 2022 session and the subsequent election.
I plan to be a part of that future success but look forward to letting someone else take over serving as leader while I pursue the next chapter in my political life.
It has been an honor.