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Minnesota Senate Republican leadership takes steps to maintain majority in case of a Klobuchar cabinet position

Paul Gazelka introduced a motion Tuesday to make independent Sen. David Tomassoni president pro tempore of the Senate.

Minnesota Senate Republican leadership is taking steps to ensure its majority in the chamber if Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., takes a position in President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet.

As the Legislature convened Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka introduced a motion to elect Sen. David Tomassoni, I-Chisholm, as president pro tempore of the Senate, sharing duties with acting President Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona. Tomassoni recently switched his party affiliation from DFL to independent.

The move was in anticipation of the possibility that Klobuchar could take a position in Biden’s administration.

Gazelka said he is worried about a scenario playing out like that of 2018 when former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., resigned from his position, leaving it up to former Gov. Mark Dayton to fill it until a special election later that year.

Dayton appointed his lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, to the Senate. In that scenario, the president of the state Senate steps up to fill the lieutenant governor role.

In 2018, former Senate President Michelle Fischbach was became lieutenant governor, though she continued to act as Senate President. The dual role was heavily criticized and even brought about legal challenges. 

If Gov. Tim Walz were to appoint Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan to Klobuchar’s vacancy, Gazelka said elevating Miller to Flanagan’s office would threaten the Republicans’ narrow majority in the Senate as it would trigger a special election.

Gazelka proposed keeping Miller as acting president while having Tomassoni as president pro tempore at the same time. This would mean Walz would appoint Tomassoni to the lieutenant governor position and keep Miller in the Senate. Republicans currently hold 34 of 67 seats in the Senate.

Gazelka’s motion passed on a voice vote.

“If Sen. Amy Klobuchar ended up being part of President-elect Biden’s cabinet, and if [Gov.] Walz decided to pick Lt. Gov. Flanagan to be federal Senator, we would not have another situation where our majority is jeopardized,” Gazelka said on the Senate floor.

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Gazelka said his caucus had spoken with nonpartisan staff and concluded they could have Miller and Thomassoni acting in the joint roles.

But Democratic members of the chamber criticized the move and its motivation.

“There seems to be a pattern in your party of not following the rules, of inventing rules as we move along that are confident to you. I think it would be much preferable to follow standard procedure,” Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said on the Senate floor.

In a November interview on WCCO radio, Klobuchar said "when the President calls, you listen," of a possible position in the Biden administration but stressed her work in the Senate. 

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