Six months ago, Melisa López Franzen stood at a podium to introduce herself as the new leader of Democrats in the Minnesota Senate, the first woman of color to hold the job and a suburban mom who was crafting a "middle of the road" message to try and bring her party into the majority in November.

Now, she's retiring from the Legislature.

She's one of several women holding powerful leadership positions at the Capitol who were paired with another lawmaker in the same district under the state's new redistricting maps. In most of those matchups, women chose to step down rather than challenge a colleague in their own party — and in many cases, that colleague was a man.

"I wasn't ready to leave, but sometimes the maps have something else in mind," said Franzen, whose Edina home landed in the same district as Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. He announced he was seeking re-election before Franzen addressed her plans publicly. Latz did not return a request for comment.

"Women in general want to consider their options, look at all of the pieces and take longer to make these decisions. Redistricting creates this sudden game of musical chairs," said Amy Koch, a Republican operative who was the first woman to serve as Senate majority leader in state history. "If chaos is a ladder, the men were climbing and the women were down below analyzing."

The losses due to redistricting, coupled with women who'd previously announced they're retiring or running for other offices this fall, have threatened the progress made by the largest class of female legislators in state history serving at the Capitol.

In the Senate alone, at least five women were paired in the same district as a male lawmaker in the same party. Franzen, along with Republican committee chairs Julie Rosen and Mary Kiffmeyer, are stepping down instead of running against a colleague. Republican Sens. Carrie Ruud and Justin Eichorn are running against each other after being paired in the same district.

In one pairing, Republican Sen. Gene Dornink moved instead of challenging Sen. Carla Nelson, a GOP colleague from Rochester and chair of the Taxes Committee.

"One of us has to give," said Rosen on her pairing in southern Minnesota with Sen. Rich Draheim, a Republican colleague from Madison Lake. "He's such an up-and-coming senator of great potential. He's here for the right reasons."

Rosen leaves politics after two decades of service during which she rose to chair the most powerful budgeting committee in the Senate. Over the years, her name has frequently surfaced when Republicans are looking for a candidate to run for statewide or federal office. Recognizing her own stature in the party, Rosen said she's not trying to link up with any of the current Republican campaigns for governor.

"Why would I be lieutenant governor when I should have ran for governor?" she laughed. "Women bring a different dimension to this place. We joke about it, but we do get a lot done here. We provide a balance to an arena that can be all male dominated."

Of the 72 women serving in the Legislature, two are leaders of their caucus. Women lead top finance committees in both chambers and more women of color are serving in St. Paul than ever.

Some of the women who are now leaving have built up the years of experience it takes to rise into leadership roles, including Kiffmeyer, chair of the Senate's state government finance committee and a former secretary of state.

Others represented historic firsts and underrepresented communities in Minnesota. DFL St. Paul Rep. Rena Moran, who became the first Black woman to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is leaving the Capitol to run for Ramsey County commissioner this fall. Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, was the first Latina to serve in the Senate after her election in 2006, but she's retiring after this year.

Despite historic numbers of women serving in St. Paul, men still make up two-thirds of the 201-seat Legislature. The situation has only intensified a push in newly drawn districts across the state to endorse more women for legislative seats and other offices this spring.

Emma McBride, political director for Women Winning, a group that recruits and endorses women who support abortion rights, said the group has been working since last year to recruit candidates to be ready to run across the state.

"We know that the 2012 redistricting was especially hard on women," she said. "Right when we got those maps and understood who was where, we were immediately on the phone recruiting women to run for office."

She believes work from groups such as theirs will help ultimately increase the number of women serving at the Capitol in January and help elect the first Black women to the state Senate in its more than 150-year history.

Some prominent female legislators are seeking to shatter other barriers. Sen. Michelle Benson, who until recently chaired the powerful health and human services finance committee, is seeking the Republican Party nomination for Minnesota governor, an office that has never been held by a woman.

"It is the case that there are a number of women leaving the Legislature, not necessarily by their own choice," said Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, who ran for governor in 2018 but lost in the primary to Gov. Tim Walz.

"The good news, from my perspective, is that there are a number of women who are running for the Legislature and running for the Senate, and I hope that with each election we see a Legislature that looks a little bit more like us."

At the end of the day, Franzen insists her stunning exit from politics was a personal choice not to move or run against Latz, a colleague she admires. The decisionmaking that came into play when she initially ran for office was similar to what led her to step aside — at least for now.

"Decisions to run in the first place are different for women, especially women like myself, mother of young kids. ... There's more considerations than just my career," she said. "I'm not done, and neither is he; we're just going to take different paths."