Gazelka acknowledges missteps in handling of COVID-19 outbreak among GOP senators

    Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on May 14.

    After days of criticism, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka on Tuesday issued a statement acknowledging missteps in how he handled a COVID-19 outbreak among his members that led to calls for his resignation.

    “In hindsight, we could have handled the event and our information sharing differently,” he said in a lengthy statement. “I personally will apply lessons from this episode to inform future decisions as we prepare for the 2021 legislative session. I am committed to protecting senators, staff and the people with whom we come into contact.”

    Gazelka, who is in Florida quarantining after reporting on Sunday that he had contracted COVID-19, along with at least three other GOP state senators, has come under intense scrutiny. Reports of the first confirmed cases came about only after Capitol press corps journalists broke the news, starting with state Sen. David Senjem. 

    Fox 9 reported that in addition to an in-person meeting to reelect Gazelka as caucus later, the Senate GOP later attended a victory dinner party in Lake Elmo with up to 150 attendees, few of whom wore masks. 

    After learning of the party, Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, late on Sunday called for Gazelka’s resignation, an unlikely scenario, saying her caucus had lost trust in Gazelka’s ability to protect members and staffers who work in the Minnesota Senate. 

    Gazelka suggested that he is adjusting to how to best handle the pandemic. 

    “All of us Minnesotans are constantly learning from and having to adapt to changes in the course of the pandemic,” he said. “The Legislature is no exception.”

    He added: “We don’t always get this balance right but it’s important we learn from our experiences, exercise good judgment and work at constant self-improvements.”

    Still, Democratic-Farmer-Laborstate senators are considering filing an ethics complaint over the debacle, saying Republicans’ actions to only inform their side of the aisle put their DFL colleagues and nonpartisan staff at risk.

    The House GOP similarly failed to disclose a recent COVID-19 infection ahead of last week’s special session. At least one House Republican lawmaker contracted the virus.

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.