It's been a confidence-shattering few weeks in the Minnesota Senate.
The abrupt resignation of Majority Leader Amy Koch, the dismissal of GOP communications director Michael Brodkorb, and the revelation and admission by Koch that she had an "inappropriate relationship" with a male staffer have been the stuff of soap operas, not of respected lawmaking entities.
Tuesday's election of Sen. David Senjem to succeed Koch ought to be the beginning of the restoration of the Senate's reputation.
Senjem is an affable and tested leader; he headed the Republican caucus as minority leader for four years and declined to become majority leader a year ago after his caucus took the majority.
Senjem likely heard a great deal from his caucusmates during 11 hours behind closed doors about the need to focus on the 2012 election, in which every Senate seat is on the ballot.
But while that political imperative looms large, Senjem has a greater responsibility. Public confidence in the Senate's operations needs repair.
Unavoidably, that work must include answering questions that linger about Koch's departure from leadership and Brodkorb's dismissal. Was Koch forced out of her leadership role by her colleagues?
Those colleagues now acknowledge that they knew she was involved inappropriately with a subordinate for weeks before their Dec. 14 meeting. What brought things to a head then?
Was firing Brodkorb legally permissible? Reassuring Minnesotans that both the spirit and the letter of employment law were followed is important now.
So is an assurance that Koch was not treated harshly because of her gender. Suspicion runs high that the state's first female majority leader was held to a different standard than a man would have been in a similar situation. Allowing that suspicion to linger unanswered would be a mistake for the majority caucus.
The Senate Ethics Committee exists for a moment such as this. It's the right venue for reflection on whether the Senate responded as it should have to Koch's situation, and for advice about how the institution ought to proceed the next time legislators deviate from proper employer-employee relationships.
But a reputation-rebuilding campaign needs to involve more than a second look at the last two weeks' events.
It also should include a resolve to run a short, orderly, no-nonsense session in 2012 -- one that could serve as an antidote to the lingering ills caused not only by the GOP leadership change, but also by a partial government shutdown last July.
The 2012 Legislature has been granted the unexpected gift of a one-year reprieve from budget woes. That should not be the cue to trot out divisive social measures, or to attempt to clutter up the state Constitution with highly partisan changes in democratic processes.
Rather, the Senate Republican majority has one more chance to show that it can shoulder the Senate's special responsibility to be state government's steward. With longer terms and, until recently, longer tenures than found in the House, the modern-era Senate has been state government's stabilizer, concerned with long-term interests.
The GOP majority should reclaim that role in the 2012 session. It should focus on those things that Minnesotans of all political stripes value -- particularly adequate transportation and higher education infrastructure, the traditional concerns of an even-numbered session.
It should do what's needed to tether to Minnesota a potentially footloose state asset, the NFL's Vikings. It should continue work begun last year to bring greater efficiency to government operations.
Senjem and company should save the partisanship for the campaign trail. If they do, they should be able to hit that trail while spring flowers are still in bloom.
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