Hours after Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Sunday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, the DFL called on him to resign from his leadership post, saying he mishandled an outbreak among the GOP ranks.
Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he has been in quarantine since experiencing symptoms Nov. 9 and “will remain in quarantine as long as my doctor advises me to.”
DFL Senate Leader Susan Kent said GOP gatherings led to an outbreak and that the information wasn’t shared with Senate DFLers or nonpartisan staff.
Under Gazelka’s leadership, she said, Republican caucus members have “engaged in high-risk behaviors.” She said he “misled Minnesotans about their actions and they have made excuses instead of being accountable.”
Gazelka did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday night. On Saturday, he tweeted that “It’s time to stop blaming us and politicizing this.” He doubled down on that sentiment Sunday:
“The deliberate choice to use a COVID diagnosis as a political tool to blame just Republicans when community spread is uncontrolled is indicative of failed leadership looking for a scapegoat.”
Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said the state is at a pivotal point. “We need to provide measures that ensure workplace safety, such as testing and tracing, so we can make informed decisions and keep each other safe,” she said in a statement.
Kent’s call for Gazelka to resign comes after reports of two positive tests among other GOP senators, two in-person meetings and a GOP dinner party. On Tuesday, Republican senators and staffers were informed that “a number of [GOP Senate] members and staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19.” The memo was not shared with Senate DFLers.
Earlier Sunday, Gazelka said in a statement that he did not attend the Legislature’s special session Thursday due to a scheduled trip.
Gazelka said he is not experiencing any major symptoms and his wife, Maralee, has tested negative. They traveled to Florida and have remained there since Nov. 9, according to spokeswoman Rachel Aplikowski. “He was not aware of exposure or had any symptoms when he traveled,” she said in an e-mail.
Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, attended a postelection caucus meeting Nov. 5 and was tested Nov. 8. He got the positive result back Nov. 9, the day that Gazelka flew to Florida, but did not make the results public until Nov. 12.
Aplikowski would not say why it took Senjem four days to share the news of his positive test result.
On Nov. 13, Sen. Paul T. Anderson, R-Plymouth, told Minnesota Public Radio that he also tested positive.
At this time, there are no known positive cases among members of any caucus who were present at Thursday’s special session.
After the memo was not shared with Senate DFLers, Gov. Tim Walz criticized the Senate GOP for not disclosing the COVID cases.
It was also disclosed Sunday by Fox 9 that days before the outbreak in the GOP caucus, Republicans held a large, in-person dinner party Nov. 5 at an area event center with more than 100 attendees.
MPR reported Sunday that it asked Gazelka if the GOP Senate caucus had notified the Lake Elmo venue where the dinner was held about the positive tests. Gazelka told MPR that “based on your questioning, we realized we had not notified the event site. I just got off the phone with the owner and apologized for our oversight.”
DFLers have not been immune. Three DFL legislators have tested positive for COVID since August when Rep. Fue Lee and his family were diagnosed. He didn’t share the news until later the following month. In early October, Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin announced he tested positive. Rep. Rena Moran of St. Paul said she was diagnosed in April.
Staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.