The 34-member Minnesota Senate DFL caucus chose St. Paul Sen. Erin Murphy as its new majority leader Tuesday, after the unexpected announcement last week by leader Kari Dziedzic that she would step down from the post because of her health.
Democrats met behind closed doors for a couple of hours to choose a new leader and then stood together outside the Senate chamber for a brief statement by Murphy.
Murphy thanked Dziedzic, who was not there, and noted she remains a leader in the caucus. "She showed us that if we choose to stick together and act together we can do important things for the people of Minnesota to improve their lives," Murphy said. "And we, together, are committed to the same thing."
Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, who also ran for majority leader, stood to Murphy's right. Senate DFLers did not share the vote tally nor did Murphy take any questions before leading senators back into a hallway behind a locked door.
Murphy acknowledged the lingering sadness over Dziedzic's departure given that she had led the caucus through a historically productive session that included protections for abortion access, free school meals, driver's licenses for all and a restoration of voting rights to more than 50,000 felons.
As the Senate passed massive policy changes, Dziedzic worked remotely, negotiating as she coped with a cancer diagnosis and underwent major surgery.
With only a 34-33 edge over the GOP in the Senate, Dziedzic held the party together. Colleagues praised her as a consensus builder who lifted up others and eschewed the spotlight.
Murphy comes from the more progressive wing of the DFL. She ran for governor in 2018, receiving the DFL endorsement but losing resoundingly to Gov. Tim Walz in the primary that year.
State Republican Party Chair David Hann sent a news release criticizing the selection of Murphy, calling her views extreme. "The election of Senator Erin Murphy by the Senate DFL Caucus to be the next Senate Majority Leader should be a warning sign to Minnesotans," Hann said.
Senate Taxes Chair Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said she doesn't think anyone in the caucus could do the job as well as Dziedzic, but that the caucus is resolved to stick together. "We're going to be enthusiastic and steadfast behind our new majority leader," Rest said.
Murphy is already well-known in the caucus because she worked to recruit and elect the large 2023 class of freshmen that flipped the Senate to DFL control. She sought the majority leader post in November 2022, but lost to Dziedzic.
Murphy, 63, has been in the Legislature since 2007, serving first in the House before her election to the Senate in 2020. She represents the western side of St. Paul including the Highland Park, Mac-Groveland, St. Anthony Park and Summit Hill neighborhoods. She was House majority leader from 2013-2015.
A native of Janesville, Wis., Murphy earned a B.S. in nursing and an M.A. in organizational leadership and she attended the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. She's the former executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association.
It wasn't clear if Dziedzic participated in Tuesday's meeting remotely. Her announcement late Friday stunned her colleagues.
"Unfortunately, in the last week, I learned that my cancer has returned, and I am facing some serious challenges," she said in a written statement. "As we prepare for the next session, I decided it is in the best interest of the caucus for me to step down as majority leader after our caucus has selected a new leader."
The 2024 legislative session begins on Monday.