Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is stepping down

Minnesota's highest-ranking Republican is stepping down.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, announced via email to members of his caucus Wednesday morning he's stepping down from his role as leader of the Senate Republican Caucus. 

Gazelka, who was elected Senate Majority Leader five years ago, goes on to list accomplishments, including growing the caucus, blocking "an exhaustive list of policies pursued by the DFL," winning back-to-back majorities in the Senate and cutting income tax rates. 

"I'm so very grateful for the work we've accomplished together and believe the caucus is in a very strong position to be successful in the 2022 session and the subsequent election," Gazelka said in the email. "I plan to be a part of that future success but look forward to letting someone else take over serving as leader while I pursue the next chapter in my political life."

Gazelka doesn't say what his plan is next. However, his move is a likely sign that he's set to announce a run for governor in 2022. He'd said he would step down as Senate Majority Leader prior to entering the governor's race.

On WCCO Radio Wednesday morning, Gazelka said he's still leaning toward running for governor but says he wants to get through the Minnesota State Fair, where he's been talking to fairgoers, before announcing his next step. 

"Find me at the fair and maybe you'll find out more," Gazelka said. 

Not long after Gazelka's announcement, Minnesota Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, shared she is running for governor (an announcement that was scheduled prior to Gazelka's news). 

"Sen. Benson, she's a good senator and she's a good candidate if I perhaps get in the race, then I would certainly talk about how I might be a stronger candidate, but she's good — I'm glad she's getting in the race. She's a first-class person," Gazelka said on WCCO Radio.

The list of Republican gubernatorial candidates also includes former state Sen. Scott Jensen; Neil Shah, a dermatologist; activist Bob Carney; and Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, according to MPR News' Brian Bakst.

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Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has not formally announced if he'll run again in 2022. Though he's expected to and has made comments encouraging people who are mad at the state's COVID-19 restrictions to follow them so they'll be alive to vote against him in 2022. 

Candidates for governor and other state offices in 2022 can file their affidavit of candidacy during the filing period, which is May 17-May 31, 2022, according to the Secretary of State's Office