The first woman to lead the Minnesota Senate is leaving, saying she wants to spend time with family and work in the private sector.
Amy Koch, 40, shocked her colleagues Thursday when she wrote to them saying she would quit immediately as majority leader, in the job just a year, and not seek re-election to the Senate.
She was not specific about why she is quitting in the letter or an interview with Forum Communications.
“I just want to have an opportunity to move on to some other things,” Koch said in the interview. “I want to spend some time with my daughter. My family is incredibly important to me.”
Koch said she is leaving for personal, professional and political reasons. Fellow senators said they saw no discord within the Senate Republican caucus that would have forced her out.
While helping run Senate campaigns in 2010 and leading the Senate this year, her family and other things important to her were “not available to me,” she said.
“It certainly is a surprise,” Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said. “No one saw this coming.”
The former Air Force Russian language specialist said that after deciding not to seek re-election to the Senate, it was obvious that Republicans would be better served if she left as leader.
“We cannot afford a lame duck leader in negotiations next session,” she said in the letter.
Koch often has been mentioned as a potential candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann or as a governor candidate in 2014. On Thursday night, she did not rule out a future run for office, but said that is not in her plans.
“Sen. Koch was a very effective leader,” said Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar. “I would be one of the first to dispel any rumors or discussion about a power struggle or dissatisfaction of her within our caucus.”
In a Monday conference call with Republican senators, “there did not appear to be any unrest in the caucus,” Howe said.
Gimse, Howe and some other senators learned of the resignation from reporters.
Koch attended Concordia College in Moorhead before becoming a military Russian language specialist. Voters in her district just west of the Twin Cities elected her in 2005.
Until a year ago, Koch was a relatively obscure senator working in the GOP minority. Many considered her election as majority leader a surprise a year ago, but Republicans taking over the Senate after 38 years of Democratic control was itself a surprise.
Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, were chief negotiators for the Republican-controlled Legislature with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
“Sen. Koch made history this year,” Zellers said.
“She’s a role model and a natural leader,” the speaker added.
In her letter, Koch called 2011 “challenging, exciting and exhausting.”
“I feel our majority accomplished many of our first-year goals,” she wrote. “Minnesota is in a stronger position today because of the steps Republicans took in the Legislature to reform government and put out economy back on course.”
Gimse said the GOP will work quickly to fill the majority leader position, predicting several senators will seek the post, the most powerful job in the Senate. Koch said an election should come within two weeks.
“We need to come together very soon,” Gimse said since the next legislative session begins Jan. 24.
The Willmar senator said that he is not worried: “We have a very good and deep bench.”
The Koch announcement follows her chief of staff leaving the caucus and the state Republican Party chairman quitting. All of this comes at a time when legislative and party leaders are recruiting candidates to run in next year’s election, a job that many leaders describe as more than full time.
People from both political parties thanked Koch for her service.
“I personally regret Sen. Koch’s decision to step down as majority leader of the Minnesota Senate and not to seek re-election,” Dayton said. “I have developed great respect for her during the past year of working together. She has been an excellent leader of her caucus and, while we often disagree, a strong advocate for her beliefs.”
Added interim Republican Party Chairwoman Kelly Fenton: “Sen. Koch has helped lead our state during these difficult economic times, and her policies have helped bring about a projected surplus in Minnesota.”
GOP National Committeewoman Pat Anderson tweeted that Koch “was one of the best leaders we have had in a long time.”