“When it came to candidates, that’s where the trouble began. Early in April I said that I was not a candidate for any office. . . I made this decision plain to the nominating committee.”
Hubert H. Humphrey 1944*
In 1944 then 33-year-old Macalester College professor Hubert H. Humphrey was a rising star amongst the newly unified Minnesota political party known as the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party. Humphrey played a critical role in unifying the varying progressive interests over the previous year and impressed leaders from all corners of the coalition. Therefore, when his name came up as a possible candidate for governor at the first nominating convention of the party in 1944, there was a rousing move amongst the delegates to draft him as a candidate.
At the time Humphrey’s father-in-law had just passed away and it was likely Humphrey would soon be commissioned an officer in the Navy. Therefore, despite his good prospects in the governor’s race or the 3rd Congressional District race, he chose to defer. This decision to be patient eventually worked in Humphrey’s favor. In a couple months he found out for medical reasons (herniated disc) he was exempted from military service. That allowed him to run successfully for the mayor of Minneapolis in 1945. It was from this post that he was able to launch a successful political career by helping reshape the national Democratic Party at the famous 1948 convention. This later catapulted him to national prominence as Minnesota’s “happy warrior” United States Senator.
Apparently a wise deferral also worked out in the best interest for Minnesota State Sen. Dave Senjem. After the much-reported resignation of Sen. Amy Koch as the Republican Senate Majority Leader, the Republican caucus needed to select a new leader in an emergency meeting between Christmas and New Year’s. It was the patient Senjem who won a first ballot nomination from his caucus.
Following the Republicans’ surprising 2010 victory, most political observers thought it was a foregone conclusion Senjem would be elected the first Republican Senate majority leader in over a century. He had served four years as the minority leader of the Senate Republican caucus and, given their success under his leadership, it was always assumed he would get the position.
A few days after the election political observers were surprised when Amy Koch announced she was a candidate for the position. Koch neither had the seniority nor the experience that Senjem held in running the caucus, but she was credited by many as being the energy behind the recruiting of candidates and the election planning. It also helped that she was considered more conservative than the pragmatic Senjem in a caucus now dominated by several conservative freshman.
It was an act of supreme diplomacy when Senjem announced that he would not seek the position of Majority Leader after the election avoiding an interparty squabble with Koch. He wisely decided not to create a division early in the caucus despite having many of the necessary skills to be an effective Majority Leader. After Koch’s embarrassing scandal it appears that the Republican caucus has realized experience and steady leadership skills are to be valued.
The conservation community should view Senjem’s selection as a positive. As minority leader Senjem always had an open door and a willingness to work with differing points of view. As chairman of the Capital Investments committee he was one of the chief negotiators of last year’s bonding bill that maintained the ongoing commitment to conservation efforts in our state. It is a sad turn of events that shot down Koch’s fast rise to power, but in the end the patient Senjem was duly rewarded. Hopefully, this will result in the repetition of the legislature improving over the next session. With the session starting in only 2 weeks, we will find out the answer soon.
*Quote from “Hubert Humphrey – a biography” by Carl Solberg, Borealis Books, 1984. P. 96