Only one member of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s now-complete cabinet has been approved by the GOP-controlled Senate this session. The confirmation came for Veterans Affairs chief Larry Shellito, who was a non-controversial pick and received praise from members on both sides of the aisle.
But as session draws closer to the adjournment date, sources say to watch for committee hearings to take up Dayton’s more controversial commissioner appointments. Why? Republicans may use some appointments as leverage in the looming budget showdown.
“Every governor wants to have his cabinet confirmed,” longtime GOP lobbyist John Knapp said. “If it does become part of the deal making, it will be very subtle.”
And who in Dayton’s cabinet could be imperiled? Former DFL state Sen. Ellen Anderson, who just left the chamber in March to take over the reins at the Public Utilities Commission under Dayton, is the name most frequently mentioned. Before Anderson left the Senate, Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch booted her from the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).
Republicans also have grumbled about the late-start of Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, and lobbyists and Capitol watchers say Pollution Control Agency head Paul Aasen and Department of Public Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger have past records that could make them targets.
There is no precedent for approving commissioner appointments. Some commissioners have gone their entire tenure in an administration without getting the upper chamber’s stamp of approval, while others have earned swift confirmations or denials.
According to the Legislative Reference Library, only 13 commissioners have been denied by the full Senate since 1935, including Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau and Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke (both appointees of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty), now-lobbyist Chris Georgacas, who was denied a spot on the Board on Judicial Standards in 1997, and Steve Minn, who was rejected to two different commissioner posts in 2000. About ten commissioners either quit or were fired before the Senate could ever take a vote on their appointment.
Senate majorities have also waited years to confirm some commissioners. Former Senate Environment and Natural Resources Chair Bob Lessard waited more than seven years to confirm former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson’s DNR Commissioner, Rodney Sando, Knapp notes. “Lessard wanted to keep a close eye on commissioner Sando, and let him know he was watching over his shoulder.”