The Potluck

Senate GOP will hold confirmation hearings on Walz commissioners as special session continues indefinitely

By: - July 2, 2021 2:49 pm

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop was first appointed in January 2019.

Senate Republicans on Friday said they planned to review outstanding commissioner appointments next week, potentially moving to oust one or more members of DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s cabinet. 

State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, told her colleagues of the plan during a brief floor session.

Unlike the DFL-led Minnesota House, the Senate did not adjourn to end the special legislative session this week, opting to stay in session. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull, previously said they would stay in session in case a bonding bill materialized. He was absent Friday, saying Wednesday he intended to travel to northern Minnesota for the weekend.  

“It has been conveyed to me that Sen. Gazelka and the governor have spoken about appointments, so we will take those under consideration as is deemed prudent and necessary,” Benson said on Friday under questioning by DFL state senators who said they were blindsided by the move. 

Benson said committees will hold “informational hearings” and that the timing on on floor votes on those commissioners would be based on “informational reviews.” 

Benson declined to specify which commissioners might be voted on next week, saying she was not going to divulge the content of private conversation with GOP committee chairs.

“The Senate majority could have taken up commissioner confirmations at any point during the last three years,” Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said in a statement. “This is a blatant abuse of power, a dangerous precedent, and it puts a stain on the way this institution is supposed to be run. For Senate Republicans to try to use one chamber to single-handedly dismantle the administration at their whim is an improper use of the Senate’s constitutionally mandated role for advice and consent.”

Walz in a statement defended his commissioners, criticizing Republicans for not having held confirmation votes when they were first appointed.

“Because Senate Republicans put this work off for two years and are choosing to conduct their work in overtime, I am calling on them to forgo the thousands of taxpayer dollars they take each day in per diem, and I expect that they will conduct their work expediently, professionally, and free of any political theatre,” he said.

One potential casualty could be Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop, whom Republicans have previously put on notice.

Gazelka said in January that his caucus was angry with the agency’s move to implement Clean Car rules, which will mandate carmakers deliver more electric cars to be sold in Minnesota. 

“I will say that I have had a conversation with Commissioner Bishop that I felt like moving forward with California emission standards (and) bypassing the legislative process was beyond what her authority is,” he said then. “There has been a conversation; I’ll just say that.”

Earlier this week, Gazelka also spoke of frustrations with rulemaking efforts related to manure spreading on farm fields. He also spoke of PFAS particulates that he said could force some manufacturers to halt product lines. PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are a group of man-made toxic chemicals.

Last summer, Senate Republicans ousted two commissioners: former Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley and former Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.