Rep. Rick Hansen, a persistent critic of decisions made by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, has been removed from the 12-member body. House Speaker Kurt Zellers appointed Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, chair of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, to replace Hansen on the board.
Zellers also appointed Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, to be the minority party representative on the council, and outdoors enthusiast Ron Schara to be a public representative.
“It’s not a surprise,” Hansen tells PIM, of his ouster. “This is what I expected.”
Hansen has been a sharp critic of the board, which is charged with recommending funding for outdoors projects paid for with a tax increase that was approved by voters in 2008. Since then the council has approved roughly $230 million in grants. But Hansen has consistently voted against funding proposals, arguing that many were pet projects favored by outdoors groups that are represented on the board.
The South St. Paul DFLer was originally appointed to serve on the Lessard-Sams council until 2013. But in December the board changed the rules so that legislative members served at the discretion of the House and Senate leadership. Hansen believes that the move was made explicitly to remove him from the council. He also questions whether Zellers had the authority to make such a move considering that the Legislature has not enacted the new rules.
“Those changes have not been heard or voted on by the Legislature,” said Hansen. “This is the Speaker’s decision.”
Despite his ouster, Hansen says he will continue to bird dog funding decisions made by the Lessard-Sams council. “Someone has to ask hard questions regarding the use of millions of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “Our responsibility is not to rubber stamp, but to review and evaluate.