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Walz, Democrats claim commissioner rejection all about politics

Tom Hauser
Updated: August 13, 2020 06:42 PM
Created: August 13, 2020 06:02 PM

For the first time in 12 years, a Minnesota governor has had a cabinet member rejected by the state Senate. Nancy Leppink had her confirmation rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday in a surprise move.

"It's a very serious matter that the Senate has the obligation to do or not to do is confirm commissioners," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said on the Senate floor. "I'll be laying out the reasons why I'll be voting no on Commissioner Leppink."

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Gazelka and other Republicans went on to outline issues they had with Leppink on workers' compensation, wage theft legislation, youth employment restrictions and "wedding barn" regulations.

"I knew she needed to go," Gazelka said, "that she was not doing her job."

DFL Minority Leader Susan Kent fired back.

"I want to say that I think this is outrageous," she said in a rebuttal on the Senate floor. "It is a travesty and it is absolutely not fitting of the Minnesota Senate to handle something of a serious nature without due notice that this would be discussed."

Senate Republicans reject Gov. Walz Commissioner Nancy Leppink

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said it was a pure political power play.

"Thank you Senator Gazelka for your expansive explanation of why you launched this sneak attack and this ambush on this chamber because you wanted to create an unfair advantage in opposition to a Governor who has shown some political ability and effectiveness and some leadership," Dibble said.

DFL Sen. Karla Bigham of Cottage Grove echoed those comments.

"This is exactly what Minnesotans don't want," she said. "They don't want this politics. They're tired of it."

But 12 years ago almost those exact words were used by Republicans to criticize Democrats in the Senate who rejected Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's transportation commissioner. Four years earlier they rejected his education commissioner.

Gov. Tim Walz is concerned Senate Republicans might go after other commissioners in a political dispute over his emergency powers.

"They simply saw this as political payback and that's too bad," Walz told reporters Wednesday night. "Imagine if we come back next month in September and we're just starting to get our schools open and they decide to go after (Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner) Jan Malcolm."

Gazelka didn't mention Malcolm by name but did say the Senate might hold hearings about other commissioner confirmations in the near future.


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