Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaks during a press conference on Jun 2, 2021. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.
After contentious debate over outstanding commissioner nominations, the Minnesota Senate adjourned the special legislative session on Wednesday, jettisoning plans to confirm two of Gov. Tim Walz’s appointees.
Two confirmation votes were slated for Wednesday, but debate started off on a testy note after Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, made her third motion since Friday to adjourn the session.
Senate Democrats blasted the last-minute confirmation hearings and votes as political theater, accusing Republicans of exacting retribution on former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop. The former Best Buy executive, who had served 2 ½ years in the role, abruptly resigned on Tuesday ahead of a confirmation hearing, expecting the GOP-led Senate to fire her over policy differences.
State Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, likened the effort to fire commissioners to the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, saying such moves were destabilizing and akin to “dismantling” the government.
Republicans reacted sharply, making attempts to curtail her remarks. They also pushed back against DFL efforts to question their motives.
Lawmakers debated Kent’s motion to adjourn the session for nearly two hours before voting 46-18 to adjourn. Republicans criticized Democrats for complaining about commissioners not being confirmed, only to argue for adjournment when Republicans were ready to hold confirmation votes.
“That was probably the strangest end that I’ve ever been around, where Republicans wanted to confirm two commissioners that the governor had and the Democrats would rather do sine die,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. “We thought it was going to be a very short day, no political theater, but in the end that’s the nature of what we do at times.”
Gazelka said they had intended to confirm Sarah Strommen as commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, as well as Dean Compart as president of the Animal Health Board. He said they had not planned to vote on Jennifer Ho, commissioner for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, who appeared at an informational hearing Tuesday.
Gazelka said he likened the hearings as performance evaluations between employers and employees.
Kent pushed back against Gazelka’s characterization of confirmation hearings as job performance reviews. “They see this is a job interview and I think that that fundamentally distorts how this process should work,” she said.
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