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Status Report: Gazelka wins slot as new Senate majority leader

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, was elected by his Republican Senate peers Thursday to become Senate majority leader.

The GOP caucus leadership post will be vacated in January when Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, leaves office. Despite a wave election that gave Republicans control of the Senate in addition to the House, Hann lost his own re-election bid on Tuesday.

Gazelka, 57, a third-term senator, said at a press conference that before Tuesday’s general election, he had no thought of becoming majority leader. Hann’s loss to Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, along with encouragement from his wife, Maralee, changed his mind, he said.

The state faces a health insurance crisis, Gazelka said, and he pledged to help resolve the issue. Minnesotans on the individual insurance market face rate hikes of up to 67 percent when their new or renewed plans kick in at the beginning of the year.

“We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and figure that out,” he said.

He declined to immediately discuss any specific plans or fixes, but did mention that GOP senators are open to Gov. Mark Dayton’s suggestion to offer rebates to offset premium increases.

“But it has to be with reforms that we need going forward,” Gazelka said. “If we don’t get the reforms, one year from now, we are going to get the same story with huge rate increases.”

Gazelka declined to immediately discuss any possibility for a special session to resolve the health insurance crisis. However, he said that his GOP caucus is ready to do business with Democrats. He also said that Senate Republicans will join Democrats in the new Senate office building across the street from the Capitol, a move the caucus has resisted until now.

“We have a majority that is 34 strong,” Gazelka said while surrounded by his fellow GOP senators, including 12 freshmen. “The Democrats have 33. So we are going to have to find a way to work together at some level.”

Later in the day, the Senate DFL caucus announced that its members had elected Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, its leader. Bakk is currently the Senate majority leader, a title he will lose when Republicans take over as majority party in January. Assistant leaders will be elected at a later date, a press release said.

On the House side, Democrats chose Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, to replace Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, as minority leader. Republicans re-elected Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, to his House speaker post.

Prompt delivery: The Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services on Wednesday released a detailed House membership directory — including members-elect — just a day after the election.

The 20-page directory is available both online and in print. It includes the names of all House and Senate members, even those not yet sworn in. But it includes much more detail on House members.

In its pages, readers will find a demographic breakdown of the House, revealing that there are 85 men and 48 women are members. Among men, 56 are Republicans and 29 are DFLers. Of the women, 20 are Republicans and 28 DFLers.

The directory also includes a pronunciation guide for unusual names and a breakout listing of all incoming freshmen by party and district.

In the extended directory section, photographs of all members are included, along with members’ hometowns and personal phone numbers. Information that is not included as yet — committee assignments, room numbers, freshmen email addresses and the like — will be updated as the information becomes available, said Lee Ann Schutz, Public Information Services editor and assistant director.

Schutz said assembling the directory begins after the primary season and takes about three weeks of work. It only gets challenging when people don’t respond to requests for the information, she added. Often that is less due to neglect than pessimism, she said. “I do some of the calls at the end and sometimes people will say, ‘Well I just didn’t think I was going to win, so I didn’t respond,’” Schutz said.

The effort is worthwhile because the end product is important, she said. “Right after the election, those who are interested in state government really want to know who got elected,” she said. “It’s a real handy tool for people who want to be involved and stay in contact, or are just curious.”

The directory is online. Hard copies can be obtained in Room 175 of the State Office Building.

Hatchery closing: State officials said they are closing a trout hatchery on Lake Superior, citing failing infrastructure and excessive energy consumption.

The Department of Natural Resources said Thursday it’s closing the 1970s-era French River Hatchery near Duluth because the facility needs $8 million in upgrades, and consumes 10 percent of all energy used by the DNR statewide.

The hatchery produces Kamloops trout for stocking in Lake Superior. The domesticated strain of rainbow can’t reproduce naturally in Lake Superior.

The DNR said the hatchery is inefficient because it has to heat the lake’s cold water to a temperature at which those fish can be raised. That means every fish an angler keeps costs around $160 to produce there. Fisheries chief Don Pereira said production will switch to another hatchery until a new strategy is determined.

What’s ahead: The Legislative Health Care Workforce Commission will meet at 12:30 p.m. Monday in Room 1200 of the Minnesota Senate Building. Co-chaired by Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, and Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, the commission consists of five senators and five House members. Agenda items include a presentation on scope of practice by the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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