As a lab technician for 3M, Ms. Relph tests industrial masks. “The fact that people deny the science behind masks makes me even angrier,” she said. She recalled that a Senate colleague of her father’s had stopped by her family’s house, without a mask, while her father was in the hospital. “Point blank, he said, ‘I don’t think this is as serious as they’re telling us it is,’” Ms. Relph said. “My dad was dying. These are people that think they’re good, kind, compassionate people, and yet they don’t act that way.”
On Nov. 3, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. comfortably won Minnesota, but Republicans held their majority in the State Senate, thanks to strength in rural areas.
When Mr. Relph attended the dinner two days later, he appeared to be narrowly winning re-election in his swing district. But as more ballots were counted, his Democratic opponent edged ahead, winning by 315 votes. Democrats needed to flip just two seats for a majority in the Senate. Although they won Mr. Relph’s district, they lost a seat of their own, and Republicans kept control.
Ms. Relph said her father’s ambivalent embrace of the president might have cost him support with the Republican base. He once co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to target economic aid to the Somali community. It earned him the nickname “Jihadi Jerry” among fervent Trump supporters, his daughter said.
Last week, as the Legislature returned for its 2021 session, senators held a moment of silence for Mr. Relph. Mr. Gazelka called him “a great senator, a true friend.”
The majority leader also led his party in blocking a Democratic proposal to require masks in public areas of the Capitol, flouting a statewide mask mandate, imposed by the governor, in indoor settings. (The Legislature is not subject to the governor’s orders.) Republicans questioned the effectiveness of masks. But Mr. Gazelka did include language in a resolution “strongly encouraging” mask wearing.
Ms. Kent, the Democratic leader, said that she had noticed lately that Mr. Gazelka was always wearing a mask himself in the Capitol, where before he had not worn one. Besides Mr. Relph’s death, Mr. Gazelka’s mother-in-law died in December after contracting Covid-19.