Senate Dems elect former union boss with what GOP calls ‘extreme record’ as new leader

Just four years ago, after a failed gubernatorial bid, Erin Murphy was running a left-leaning non-profit primarily funded by her former employer, the Minnesota Nurses Association.

On Tuesday morning Murphy announced that the 34-member DFL Senate Caucus had selected her to serve as majority leader. (Minnesota Senate Media/YouTube)

longtime progressive DFL legislatorformer nurses union boss and one-time gubernatorial opponent of Tim Walz has been elected majority leader of the Minnesota Senate.

Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, was selected by her peers on Tuesday to step in as the top-ranking Democrat in the Senate after Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, announced last week she was stepping down from leadership after learning the cancer she has been fighting since last year has returned. The change in leadership among the DFL’s one-seat majority in the Senate comes less than a week before the start of the legislative session on Monday, Feb. 12.

On Tuesday morning Murphy announced that the 34-member DFL Senate Caucus had selected her to serve as majority leader.

In a press conference at the Capitol that lasted less than three minutes with Murphy surrounded by two dozen of her fellow DFL senators, the new majority leader said that her predecessor “ably led this caucus for more than a year in a transformative period for the people of Minnesota.”

“[Dziedzic] remains a member of this caucus,” Murphy said. “She will remain a leader in this caucus. She will be a mentor and a teacher for us.

“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; we together are committed to the same thing.

“We are committed to together [as] 34 members to make sure we are working to improve the lives of Minnesotans. We are going to do that in Kari’s honor.”

Senate DFL staff told media members at the press conference that Murphy wouldn’t be taking any questions following her brief remarks.

Republicans quickly denounced the Senate DFL’s decision to elevate Murphy to majority leader, saying it should serve as a warning to Minnesotans on what to expect when the legislative session begins next week.

“Murphy’s radical agenda includes supporting abortion up to the moment of the birth, the abolition of ICE, making Minnesota a ‘Sanctuary State,’ voting for nearly every tax increase proposed by Democrats in St. Paul, and attacking a fellow DFL senator for his criticism of anti-Israeli terrorism,” said David Hann, chair for the Republican Party of Minnesota and a former GOP senator.

“Her extremism was too much, and her fellow Democrats rejected her statewide in 2018 when she was soundly defeated in the DFL Primary Election for governor,” Hann said. “With such an extreme record, it’s no surprise Erin Murphy refused to take questions from the media in her first press conference today.”

Gov. Tim Walz praised Murphy, a one-time political opponent, in a social media post upon learning she had been elected majority leader.

“Congratulations to Minnesota’s next Senate Majority Leader, Senator Erin Murphy!” Walz said. “I’m excited to continue working together to get things done for Minnesota!”

The Star Tribune reported that Senate President Bobby Jo Champion, the second ranking DFLer in the Senate, had also run for majority leader. The caucus ultimately chose Murphy, a progressive urban Democrat and former union leader who has been credited with helping recruit and campaign for several candidates in competitive Senate districts during the 2022 primary and general election cycle, including: Liz Boldon of Rochester, Judy Seeberger of Afton, Nicole Mitchell of Woodbury and Clare Oumou Verbeten of St. Paul.

Return to elected office after stint running short-lived non-profit

While the St. Paul Democrat is in her second term in the Senate, Murphy has long been a fixture at the Capitol and is no stranger to leadership among her DFL legislative contemporaries.

Murphy speaks at a 2017 Minnesota House DFL press conference. (Photo by Lorie Shaull/Flickr)

Murphy was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2006. Prior to that, she spent more than a decade as a staffer and then executive director for the Minnesota Nurses Association. She served for six terms in the House before stepping away in 2018 to launch a campaign for governor. During her last five years in the House, Murphy had served as House majority leader, the second ranking leadership position.

During her ill-fated gubernatorial campaign, Murphy actually won the DFL endorsement at the party’s state convention in June 2018, but then came in a distance second to Walz in the DFL primary election later that summer.

At that point, Murphy was set to leave elected office for the first time in more than a decade and founded a left-leaning health care non-profit, “Our Stories. Our Health.” The organization was dissolved in 2022, just more than one year after Murphy ran for and won a seat in the state Senate when she primaried 11-term DFL incumbent Dick Cohen. Murphy was on the organization’s payroll as a compensated officer in 2019 and 2020.

During the less than 2.5 years that “Our Stories. Our Health.” was operational, it took in $450,000 from just two sources, which helped pay the salary of Murphy and one other employee, according to tax filing records.

In 2019, the Minnesota Nurses Association, an organization which Murphy had led 15 years prior and had backed her gubernatorial campaign, donated $225,000 to “Our Stories. Our Health.” — the non-profit’s inaugural year. MNA then gave the organization another $75,000 in 2020 and $100,000 in 2021. “Our Stories. Our Health.” also received $50,000 from the Service Employees International Union office in Minneapolis in 2020.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.