With his inauguration less than two weeks away, Gov.-elect Mark Dayton has announced two more state agency commissioners, and they are both familiar figures at the Capitol. Dave Frederickson will head the Department of Agriculture, and Ken Peterson has gotten the nod to lead the Department of Labor and Industry. They represent the first two new appointments to Dayton’s cabinet; his other selection – Tom Sorel at the Department of Transportation – is a holdover from the Pawlenty administration.
When Frederickson served in the state Senate from 1987 to 1992, he was known to colleagues as “farmer Dave.” The moniker was bestowed upon him by former state Sen. Mike Freeman. So it’s not particularly surprising that Dayton selected Frederickson to be the state’s next agriculture commissioner.
Federickson will become the first new head of the state agency in more than 15 years. Current commissioner Gene Hugoson survived three administrations, representing two different political parties, during that time.
“There’s going to be big shoes to fill,” acknowledged Frederickson, who entered the Senate at the same time as Hugoson. “He’s been there for a long, long time, but I think this transition will go very, very well.”
Frederickson certainly has the resume to fill the post. In addition to his time in the Senate, Frederickson has served as president of both the Minnesota Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union. Most recently he’s worked as the top agriculture adviser to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. At the DFL state convention in Duluth last spring, his was one of a handful of names rumored to be on gubernatorial endorsee Margaret Anderson Kelliher’s short list for lieutenant governor.
Doug Peterson, current president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, represented the same Senate district as Frederickson when he served in the state House. “When you put together kind of that prairie populism of renewable fuels and rural development, we had a pretty good team,” said Peterson, who was also under consideration for the state’s top agriculture post.
Key Republican legislators on agriculture issues also praise the pick. “He’s well-respected in ag circles,” said Sen.-elect Doug Magnus, GOP-Slayton, who will chair the Agriculture and Rural Economies Committee.”I’ve known him a long time. I’ve found him to be a reasonable, common sense, pretty good man.”
State Rep. Rod Hamilton, GOP-Mountain Lake, who will chair the Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance Committee, agrees with that sentiment. “I think it’s a great pick,” he said. “He definitely has the experience, of course, and understands the important of agriculture. It’s refreshing because he also has the Washington connection.”
As with all agencies, the state’s $6.2 billion budget deficit will be the first order of business. Frederickson says that state agriculture officials have already drawn up plans for cutting costs by 5, 10 or 15 percent. “I’m sure every state agency will have to step up to the plate and deal with this reality,” he said.
Both Dayton and Republican legislative leaders have indicated that streamlining business regulations in hope of spurring job creation is a top priority. In agriculture that likely means looking at ways to speed up permits for feedlots and other agricultural operations. “I think across the board, there’s been a lot of discussion and a lot of concerns about [permitting],” said Frederickson. “I suspect that will be an issue we will be revisiting at a legislative level.”
Returning to the Capitol, Frederickson will have to find a new nickname. He’s no longer an active farmer. The family farm in Murdock was sold to his wife’s cousin in 1998.
Dayton’s choice of Ken Peterson to head the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry represents the elevation of another Capitol veteran. In fact, Peterson served in the same capacity under the last DFL governor, Rudy Perpich, two decades ago. Peterson’s background also includes stints as chief of staff to former St. Paul mayor Jim Scheibel, executive director of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) and deputy attorney general for government operations under Mike Hatch. Currently he runs his own law and lobbying firm. Clients include the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and the Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition.
Peterson’s relationship with his new boss goes back three decades. “We’ve always worked together well,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for him and his vision for the state.”
Peterson says the Office of Labor and Industry provides a vital mission: making sure Minnesota’s workplaces are safe. He concedes that the state’s $6.2 billion budget deficit could make it difficult to adequately fulfill this task. “It does give you pause,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult.”
Shar Knuton, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, offered praise for the pick. “He will be an ally for organized labor,” said Knutson, who worked with Peterson in the Scheibel administration. “He will work together with the governor and with labor and with other groups to make sure that we move Minnesota forward – that we create the jobs that we so desperately need.”
Knutson also believes that the selection of Peterson shows that Dayton will be a strong ally of unions. “I believe that we will be treated with respect and will be listened to,” she said, “which is something we didn’t have in the Pawlenty administration.”