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Former Senator Amy Koch talked about the events surrounding her resignation from Sen. Majority Leader, her decision not to run for office again and her new role as the owner of The Pines Bar & Grill in Maple Lake.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Amy Koch: Affair gave GOP foes an opportunity

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON
  • Star Tribune
  • January 26, 2013 - 10:09 PM

Former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch says she lays much of the blame for the tumultuous nature of her resignation from leadership a year ago on former political deputies who, she says, saw a rare opportunity to knock her aside and lead the Senate.

"There was a power grab going on," she said in the first interview detailing her side of the political intrigue. "There was an opportunity presented, and it was taken."

Instead of the low-key exit she had hoped for and been promised, Koch found that news of her affair with Michael Brodkorb had been deliberately leaked to the media by her most trusted allies in the Senate.

The incident set in motion a dramatic reshuffling among Senate Republicans.

Since then, Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, who was among those who pushed for Koch's ouster, emerged as the Senate GOP leader and may be positioning himself for a gubernatorial run.

Hann declined to comment for the story, but in the past has said rumors of the relationship between Koch and Brodkorb, the then-Senate GOP communications chief, threatened to create a poor workplace environment. "We had an ethical duty to address it," he said earlier. The decision by him and other senators to confront Koch was not for personal gain, Hann said.

"Senator Koch's version of events is incomplete and inaccurate, and I wish her all the best in moving forward," said former Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, whom Koch accused of leaking the news. Michel, who has since left the Senate, declined to comment further.

When she resigned her post 13 months ago, Koch cut short one of the state GOP's most promising careers. It was Koch, together with Brodkorb, who had recruited the candidates that helped Republicans win the Senate for the first time in 40 years.

"I understand it was a difficult situation of my making; I made a personal mistake," said Koch, who did not seek re-election. "I am not here to justify that in any way, I am not here to make excuses. I am not a victim in this."

Kicking doors open

Koch says she has had time to reflect, review media reports and watch Senate ethics hearings since her resignation and wants to correct the record.

"How it was handled was wrong," she said. "There were misstatements and untruths that were told. There were folks who wanted to quiet me or wanted me to go away, and they intended to close some doors on me. That's OK; I get that. But now I am going to kick a few open."

It was September 2011 when former Senate chief of staff Cullen Sheehan confronted Koch and Brodkorb privately and asked if they were romantically involved. The two admitted they were. Koch said she told Sheehan that her husband knew of the affair and that she would need time to handle things privately with her family.

For the next couple of months, Koch thought Sheehan was the only other person who knew. She says she didn't know that Sheehan had already told Michel, then the deputy majority leader and Koch's top supporter.

By mid-December, Michel and other leaders had become increasingly worried about the situation. Michel whisked Koch into a secret meeting at the Minneapolis Club with some of her closest allies, including Hann and Sens. Chris Gerlach of Apple Valley and Claire Robling of Jordan.

At the end of the three-hour meeting, Koch said, Hann gave a clear directive: "He said, 'You are going to resign tonight,' " and they were going to fire Brodkorb the next day.

Brodkorb was considered by many insiders to be an aggressive and brash political operative who clashed regularly with staff and even GOP senators who failed to exhibit lock-step allegiance.

Hann and Koch have said it was an emotional, wrenching meeting. Hann said previously that they first wanted to give Koch a chance to deny the accounts, and that they would defend her vigorously. She did not. Koch said her leadership team left her one option: Resign as majority leader or Hann and the others would tell the entire Senate GOP caucus of the affair.

Koch announced the next morning that she was stepping down for personal reasons, offering no other details.

News breaks

Within hours, WCCO-TV broke the news that Koch, 41, had been caught in an affair with a married Senate staffer who reported to her. Shortly after, Hann, Gerlach and Michel called a news conference to confirm what they knew of the affair and told of their secret meeting with Koch the night before.

It was months before Koch, shellshocked by the revelations, learned the rest of the story. Left with a legal and public relations mess, Koch moved to hire lawyer and public relations guru Ron Rosenbaum.

At their first meeting, Rosenbaum made a stunning disclosure: While Koch had been releasing her resignation announcement, he -- at Michel's behest -- had been calling a reporter at WCCO to leak news of the affair.

"You could have knocked me over with a feather," Koch said.

The day before the confrontative meeting with Koch, Michel had met privately with Todd Rapp, a longtime friend and president of the public relations group Himle, Rapp & Co.

Rapp, a DFLer and onetime House staffer, said Michel wanted media relations advice on how to handle Koch's likely departure from leadership.

"It was pretty clear he had an idea what he was going to do," Rapp said of Michel in an interview.

But even after Koch agreed to resign, Rapp said, Michel was concerned that she was not going to address the affair and worried that the news would dribble out over time, drawing out the political impact.

He said he and Michel decided that the best course would be to leak a fuller story to the media and then hold a news conference.

Rapp quickly called Rosenbaum, who had worked with him on several projects, and they agreed to leak the story to WCCO.

"I knew it was a political bomb," Rosenbaum said.

Michel did not dispute this account in an interview.

Since Koch left, nearly everyone in that room at the Minneapolis Club has left the Senate. Only Hann remains, serving as the Senate minority leader.

Koch said she is unsure how the next chapter of her life will unfold.

She and her husband divorced. He stayed in the family home, while Koch bought a house two blocks away. Their 17-year-old daughter shuttles between the two homes.

In a new business venture, Koch bought the Maple Lake Bowl & Pines Bar and Grill a few miles northwest of Buffalo. She's short a cook right now, so occasionally she does grill duty and even hauls the day's trash out to the back.

Koch would not say whether she and Brodkorb are still together. "That's a private matter," she said.

Koch is not named in Brodkorb's lawsuit against the Senate for what he calls wrongful termination.

New drama unfolded with Brodkorb on Wednesday night, when he crashed his car in an accident that investigators said may have involved alcohol. He is recuperating at a St. Paul hospital.

Koch said she has no plans to run for elective office again, but is not closing the door entirely.

"I am going to stay involved," she said. "This is not going to chase me away from politics the rest of my life."

Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044

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