Governor Mark Dayton and the DFL were up in arms this week when the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, voted down the appointment of former DFL state Sen. Ellen Anderson to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
We understand how Dayton might be upset. He thought he was governor and got to appoint people he wanted to run state agencies. However, the fact is that the state Senate has been playing this same game for years — and until 2011, the Senate had been under DFL control for 40 years.
In 2004, when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was doing the appointing, the Senate ousted his education commissioner Cheri Yecke, who subsequently was hired as Florida’s education commissioner. Good enough for Floridians, but not for Minnesotans.
Then, in 2008, the Senate ousted Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau. Molnau also was serving as lieutenant governor, but Pawlenty had appointed her as transportation commissioner in a cost-saving move. She was good enough for Minnesota voters, but not for DFL senators.
Granted, Molnau was MnDOT commissioner when the I-35 bridge collapsed, but it is odd that her head rolled, instead of those of the responsible bridge inspectors.
What is really ironic about the Anderson ouster, however, is a third bit of senatorial mischief-making. In a letter to the Star Tribune this week, Steven Minn recounted his experience when he was nominated to the PUC 12 years ago.
Nominated by Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura. Minn’s trouble ran into resistance, he wrote, because the senators disliked his push for energy regulation reform. Leading the charge? None other than state Sen. Ellen Anderson. It was good enough for Ellen then, but not good enough for Ellen now.
Minn’s letter concludes, “Suck it up, Ellen. As the song goes, ‘What goes around comes around.’”
No matter who was in charge, none of these shenanigans speak well of the Minnesota Senate. Governors are elected to run the administrative branch of government, and they need trusted associates to help them. The voters expect as much. Instead of making the governor appoint second choices, senators would do better, and the voters would be better served, if they give the governor the commissioners he wants, and then use the Senate’s oversight duty to grill them.