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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Erin Murphy takes over as Senate majority leader

Murphy took over for Sen. Kari Dziedzic, who is moving away from party leadership as she recovers from cancer.
Image by Jack O’Connor
Sen. Kari Dziedzic (left) and Sen. Erin Murphy (right). Murphy served on the Minnesota Senate for four years before majority leadership.

Sen. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) took over as Senate majority leader on Feb. 27 following former leader Kari Dziedzic’s (DFL-Minneapolis) departure from leadership days before the start of the 2024 legislative session.

Dziedzic led the Democratic trifecta in the Senate last session, helping her party pass numerous bills on gun control, abortion and marijuana legalization despite undergoing major surgery and treatment for ovarian cancer. Hopes for a return to normal were dashed as she announced was stepping down from party leadership due to the return of her cancer. 

“Unfortunately, in the last week, I learned that my cancer has returned, and I am facing some serious challenges,” Dziedzic said in a 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.”

Before her Senate service, Murphy served for 12 years in the Minnesota House and ran for governor in 2018. In the Senate, Murphy chairs the Rules and Administration Committee and also serves on the Higher Education and Finance committees. 

“I am grateful for the opportunity, but this is a transition none of us wanted,” Murphy said. “The timing of making the transition right at the start of the session has really called all of us to step into the space of leading for Minnesotans, which has been really impressive and not surprising at all when I think about the people who work here and the people I serve with.”

Murphy grew up in Wisconsin and earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1984 before attending St. Catherine University in 2005 for a master’s degree in organizational leadership. According to Murphy, the care and listening skills required to be an effective nurse prepared her for the dedication and sympathy to be a senator. 

“I learned a lot about what people hoped for, what made them angry and it was the preparation I needed to really represent the interests of the people,” Murphy said. “That remains a source for me of both inspiration and power.” 

Murphy added a major catalyst for her transition from a nurse to a senator was taking care of her mom, Kathleen, who was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer in 2004. According to Murphy, watching the healthcare system deny her mother care motivated her to run for the Minnesota House and fix the system. 

“It gave me a lot of purpose,” Murphy said. “We’ve made a lot of headway and there’s more to do on the question of healthcare for people who are sick and dying.” 

Murphy added being Senate majority leader is not about control. She said the path forward is to look at what Minnesotans support and how to best advocate for them. 

“Much of the work that we do, if we’re successful, begins with Minnesotans who will signal to us in their actions that they are urging, pushing, nudging, hoping that we take action on a certain issue,” Murphy said. 

Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, said Dziedzic was great at keeping Democratic unity within a one-vote majority Senate in 2022. According to Pearson, Murphy’s biggest challenge could be uniting DFL’s progressive and more moderate members with a slim, one-vote majority. 

“The legislative accomplishments of the last year in such a narrowly divided Senate were sort of a testament to many things, including leader Dziedzic’s leadership,” Pearson said. 

As the legislative session kicks off, the looming Nov. 7 elections will be in the back of mind for Murphy and Democrats.

According to Murphy, Dziedzic’s leadership passed a massive amount of new legislation last session, namely those involving childcare, affordable housing, healthcare, education, and reproductive rights and care. Murphy said the DFL can repeat last year’s success if their policies support Minnesotans.

“There’s so much that we did in the last session, how that works together is through the policy that not only supports Minnesotans, but it is what we’ve heard from Minnesotans,” Murphy said. 

Murphy said Dzeidzic showed Minnesota that when politicians work together, they can make real progress, though it takes each one of them to do that. There is bipartisan support and action but it is not visible unless you pay close attention, according to Murphy. 

“Sen. Dziedzic was an instrument and showed us when we came into this term with a one-seat majority that we could move a big agenda and we did,” Murphy said. “I want to follow that. I’ll follow her in her steps.”

University public affairs professor Larry Jacobs said Murphy tends to be more progressive than most Democrats, including Dziedzic. Jacobs also said the biggest challenge for Murphy will be bringing moderates and Democrats together alongside her progressive views. 

“She’s been at the Capitol for many years,” Jacobs said. “This is the most significant leadership position she’s had. Will she rise to the challenge?”

Jacobs added Dziedzic had a strong relationship with Majority House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) in the last session, which allowed for much communication when passing legislation. Jacobs questioned whether this would continue. 

“Can Erin Murphy work through the middle? Or is she going to be viewing her position as a way to advance the progressive agenda?” Jacobs said. “Will there be that level of trust and kind of working partnership between Hortman and the new Senate leader?”

Murphy said her previous 12 years in the Minnesota House allowed her and Hortman to build a strong relationship and partnership alongside Murphy’s newfound leadership. Murphy added that during her first meeting with Hortman and Gov. Tim Walz (DFL), Hortman made her feel welcomed and capable of the job ahead. 

“I said something about being a new person at the table and she said, ‘Well, you might be new at this table but you’re not new, so let’s get to work,’” Murphy said. 

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  • Ken DeYoe
    Mar 14, 2024 at 9:11 pm

    I commend the leader keeping the DFL caucus solidified given moderates, progressives and staunch Democrats. But let’s admit the only way all the large, perhaps historic, legislation could have been accomplished was due to the historic budget surplus.