Weeks after she was publicly ousted as Senate majority leader, Sen. Amy Koch has spent a lot of time in private, thinking about her future and even becoming a little defiant about the notion that her political career is over.
In fact, she says she may run for re-election.
Breaking her silence, Koch is defending her decision to stay in the Senate after a sex scandal with a subordinate threw her caucus into chaos over the holidays and had her colleagues meeting in the waning days of 2011 to select her replacement.
"These have been very difficult times," Koch said, "but I am taking it day by day."
She said she will return to the Legislature when the session convenes on Tuesday, but does not see a high-profile role for herself this session.
"I just want to put my head down and pull the wagon," she said.
Koch stepped down on Dec. 15 with little warning, saying she was going to spend more time with her family. The following day came the blockbuster news -- delivered by her own leadership team -- that Koch had, in fact, had an "inappropriate relationship" with a male staffer who reported directly to her.
Koch, 40, of Buffalo, has been in virtual seclusion ever since. She said that in the days that followed her ouster, friends, colleagues and constituents have offered "support and encouragement" and some have even urged her to run again. She said she's not planning on a fourth term, but "I am open to it."
A one-time rising GOP star, Koch helped engineer the first Republican takeover of the Senate in decades, recruiting many of the members that made up the new majority.
Since her ouster, Koch has avoided journalists as she saw her personal life become the subject of ridicule. At least one DFL senator has said she brought disgrace to the Senate and should be made to apologize from the Senate floor.
Days before the session starts, Koch sat down with the Star Tribune for a wide-ranging and sometimes tearful interview Thursday. She refused to discuss her personal life, the state of her marriage or what she described as the "painful" details of her final hours as majority leader. It is all "very personal and very private," she said.
Koch would not say whether she will stay married to her husband, Christopher, but during the interview she no longer wore a wedding ring. The Kochs have a teenage daughter.
She says she wrestled with the decision to leave her post.
"There have been a lot of people who told me that I shouldn't have even stepped down from majority leader," Koch said.
But, she said, "this is a very personal and private issue." In politics, she said, "sometimes personal and private issues can be a distraction."
Koch issued a written, public apology about a week after she left, in the wake of revelations that a staffer had confronted Koch about the affair in September.
Her eyes filling with tears, Koch said she had to apologize "out of respect to my family and my friends and my colleagues."
After word of the scandal broke, Koch said she had no idea how people would react. Would she be an outcast? Would she be forgiven? Would they embrace her?
She was immediately contacted by a wide range of politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike.
One of the first to contact her was DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. "He was very kind," Koch said.
"Then the friends start calling, and the support sort of folds around you," she said. "That's what you lean on."
Koch said she wants to set the record straight on one point: She said her former chief of staff confronted her about the relationship in late September. But, she said, she never heard about it from fellow senators, including her leadership team. So when they confronted her at the Minneapolis Club in mid-December, Koch said, it came as a complete surprise.
Koch would not say whether she is angry with the senators who first confronted her and then went public with the affair the day after she resigned.
Two of those senators later lost their leadership positions.
"Well, what happened in caucus stays in caucus," Koch said. "I think we had a really good discussion on it, and I don't have any comment on that."
Koch said she continues to sort out her personal life.
"I have a lot of personal work to do," she said. "That's me. That's my family. That's the first thing."
Sen. Senjem: 'It's over'
Koch also knows that her first days back will be awkward, but is willing to endure the discomfort.
"I have taken a punch to the face and can say, 'OK, that one hurt,' and move forward," she said.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, who replaced Koch and who remains one of her biggest supporters, said he does not expect an ethics complaint on the matter.
"As far as I'm concerned," he said, "it's over."
Senjem said Koch and the Republican Senate were "just going to have to move through" any awkwardness. "She'll be just fine," said Senjem.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said that Koch and Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, who was heavily criticized for his role in Koch's resignation as majority leader, "owe the full Senate an apology."
"The institution has been tarnished," said Bakk, DFL-Cook.
Koch says she's done enough.
"I have given a very public apology," she said.
Star Tribune staff writer Mike Kaszuba contributed to this report. Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288