The Potluck

Gov. Tim Walz appoints six new commissioners

By: - December 21, 2022 4:16 pm

Gov. Tim Walz speaks with reporters about his priorities for the $17.6 billion surplus at the Minnesota Department of Revenue building on Tuesday, Dec. 6. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday announced the appointment of six new commissioners.

Among the noteworthy appointments: outgoing state Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, as Minnesota’s next commissioner of revenue. Marquart has spent nearly two decades on the House Taxes Committee, most recently as chair, and he was first elected to the House in 2000.

He will now oversee the state’s revenue system, including over 30 different taxes. The Department of Revenue annually collects $26.7 billion, according to the Walz administration.

“As a former teacher, mayor, and legislator, Rep. Paul Marquart is a dedicated public servant with strong expertise in tax policy and revenue,” Walz said on Wednesday. “He is a talented leader and is deeply qualified to lead this agency to ensure that the state’s tax system works for everybody.” 

Marquart kept a solidly Republican district in the Moorhead region in DFL hands for years. In committee hearings and floor speeches, he frequently called for tax relief for senior citizens, which could be important as Walz and lawmakers consider cutting taxes on Social Security benefits next year. 

Dr. Brooke Cunningham will lead the Department of Health as its next commissioner. Cunningham is currently assistant commissioner of the health equity bureau within MDH and has been a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She’s an expert on the intersection of race and medicine and integrating health equity into the health care system, Walz’s office said in a release. 

The Walz administration chose former St. Cloud school district superintendent Willie Jett as the next Department of Education commissioner. Jett’s “career is characterized by a commitment to raising student achievement and closing opportunity gaps,” the governor’s office said.

Jett’s background may be apt given that state data released earlier this year showed Minnesota student test scores were the lowest in decades. In addition, Minnesota also has steep gaps in performance between students of color and white students.

Ida Rukavina will serve as the state’s next commissioner of the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. Rukavina is the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools. A former aide for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rukavina is also the daughter of the late state Rep. Tom Rukavina — a fierce Iron Range advocate who served in the Minnesota House for 25 years. The IRRRB is focused on economic development in mining communities. 

Finally, the Walz administration appointed Nicole Blissenbach as the next commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. Blissenbach has been the department’s acting commissioner since August. Prior to her work in the Department of Labor and Industry, Blissenbach worked as an attorney at Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union.

Walz last month reappointed 16 commissioners to his cabinet. Much of Walz’s cabinet straggled through his first term without Senate confirmation, and several were sacked by the GOP-controlled upper chamber. Given the DFL’s control of the state Senate following the November election, however, they are likely to receive prompt confirmation votes.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues. For two years she was also a corps member with Report for America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms and news deserts. She lives in St. Paul and likes to knit and watch documentaries in her free time.