There is trouble brewing in River City, or in this case, St Paul regarding various Commissioners appointments by Governor Tim Walz (DFL-MN). We have had direct conversations with members of the Senate Republican Caucus, and believe Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-09, Nisswa) has better keep a close eye on his members. The question is, will the MNSCR, operation more like Henry VIII who chopped of his wife’s heads one at a time of more like the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution where many heads fell via the guillotine?
The crass tweet sent out by House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-31A, Crown) saying, “Looks like the senate is executing a prisoner today,” shares sentiments with some of the more extreme members of the Senate majority caucus, who would like to reject all of Walz’ appointments and hamstring the government. We have learned certain members of the MNSRC feel Gazelka is not completed honest or transparent with his fellow Republicans and has been characterized as providing the best information to the last person he talks to before taking any action.
The tactic of rejecting appointment is a Flintstone club maneuver rather than a surgical approach, and may have damaged the caucus. The MNSRC voted on party lines to reject Labor and Industry Commissioner Peggy Leppink, and they did so on a 34-32 vote, with Sen Jim Abeler (R-35, Anoka) abstaining. Interesting note, the Senate Journal only records votes cast and Abeler’s abstention is not list in the record.
Because the Senate Republicans hold a three vote majority, Gazelka can afford to lose one or two votes, but our conversations lead us to believe there may not be a unanimous position of all members on the appointments of former state Senator, and colleague of some Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley, Commissioner of Pollution Control and Public Utilities Commissioner Joe Sullivan.
As we understand, the Republicans took their wrath out on Leppink because she was not responsive the Greater Minnesota Republicans desire to restructure Worker’s Compensation during the pandemic. In the case of Kelley, we understand he was considered to be quite arrogant when he met with Sen Eric Pratt (R-55, Prior Lake) and this has been communicated broadly throughout the caucus. He also is the target regarding the Enbridge Line 3 issue and we see him to be the most vulnerable.
We understand Bishop is getting similar criticism to Leppink because of her advancement of higher energy standards, inline Walz’ position, which is ironic when a Commission carries water for the Administration and is considered out of step because they are supporting the Governor. That is their job.
During the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee hearing on these appointments, Sen David Senjem (R-25, Rochester) spoke strongly in favor of Sullivan’s selection to the PUC recognizing his environmental credentials. Although, in a recent vote on the Enbridge Line 3 expansion he may have put a dent is his greenery, but cultivated Republican support, by advancing the expansion.
We see a couple of scenarios, based on head counts. Gazelka will likely only put up Commissioners to reject where he has firm numbers. Abeler appears to be a wild card, and this means he is not completely reliable to Gazelka. We don’t believe all of the Republican Senators have bought into the Gazelka strategy and some have received pushback after the Leppink vote in their districts.
Remember, these are not the only Commissioners yet to be confirmed and there might be some others the Republicans seek to consider. The aftermath of the George Floyd murder and riots puts the focus on Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and the state’s response to the civil unrest.
The question we have is what will be Gazelka’s message to Walz this special session, we think it will be a split decision and if the reject they will also approve someone in order to give mixed message, and merely muddy the waters. Of course, there is always next month and also if they lose the Majority in November, they can be vindictive and do recess rejections in November and December if Walz continues to extend his emergency powers.
If Walz were only to cede some authority to the various county governments he would probably be able to resolve this issue altogether.