The Potluck

Walz announces departures of health, public safety, education commissioners

By: - November 16, 2022 3:37 pm

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm briefed reporters on the state’s preparedness for the spread of the novel coronavirus. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday that his commissioners of health, education and public safety are stepping down.

Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Department of Education Commissioner Heather Mueller and Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington all opted to “not to seek reappointment,” Walz’s office said in a release.

Commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Mark Phillips is also stepping down. Walz’s administration said 16 cabinet members were reappointed for a second term.

“I’m grateful to our entire cabinet for their years of service to Minnesota,” Walz said Wednesday. “Together, we made historic investments in education, achieved the lowest unemployment rate of any state in history, and protected the health and safety of Minnesotans. I look forward to building the team that will help us kick off our second term.” 

Malcolm, the state’s commissioner of health, has spearheaded Minnesota’s COVID-19 response throughout the pandemic, which also made her a polarizing figure among some Minnesotans who minimized the threat of the pandemic while distorting the risks of vaccines. She and Walz were the face of Minnesota’s pandemic response when the virus was widespread in 2020 and 2021, often making daily media appearances to provide updates on the number of infections and deaths in the state. 

Malcolm also served as health commissioner under Gov. Mark Dayton and Gov. Jesse Ventura. 

Republican state senators last year toyed with ousting Malcolm. Senate Republicans used the chamber’s confirmation power as a tool against Walz and ultimately forced out three commissioners in his first term. Just a handful of commissioners received a vote, with most serving without Senate confirmation. 

Mueller, commissioner of education, has managed the state’s public schools through much of  the pandemic. Senate Republicans most recently called for Mueller’s resignation for overseeing the agency’s response to the Feeding Our Future scandal.

Harrington, commissioner of public safety, has been in law enforcement for 35 years. During his tenure, he oversaw police reform initiatives and oversaw changes to the state’s Licensing and Registration System, according to the release.

Phillips led the agency under Dayton and Walz. The agency provides funding and grants for businesses and nonprofits to promote northeastern Minnesota’s economy. Walz formally reprimanded Phillips in 2019 after allegations of DFL cronyism surfaced at the agency. 

The Walz administration is accepting applications for these commissioner positions.

Given DFL control of the state Senate, Walz’s commissioners are likely to receive more prompt confirmation votes during his second term.

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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.

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