ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Senate on Monday refused to confirm Gov. Mark Dayton’s choice to lead the state commission that regulates public utilities, a party-line vote that prompted the Democratic governor to harshly criticize the Senate’s Republican majority.
Republican senators said the 37-29 vote to reject Anderson, a former state senator herself, was because she has “demonized traditional energy sources,” in the words of state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. Republicans were concerned that would result in Public Utilities Commission decisions that resulted in higher rates for citizens, Rosen said.
Dayton and Anderson rejected that interpretation, pointing out that in more than six months on the job Anderson has sided with colleagues — including Republican appointees — in the vast majority of votes. Instead they blamed partisanship, with Dayton denouncing GOP senators in unusually sharp terms as “unfit to govern this state.”
“A very good person, a very dedicated public servant, and an excellent chair of the Public Utilities Commission was wrongly maligned and cruelly rejected today by Republican senators,” Dayton said shortly after the vote, which he called a “mean-spirited partisan stunt.” He said he would offer Anderson a senior advisor position in his administration, though Anderson told The Associated Press she wasn’t yet sure if she’d accept.
The state Senate is given responsibility to confirm or deny all of a governor’s cabinet appointments. Anderson was the first rejected Dayton appointee, and historically such rejections have been rare. During the administration of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the Senate — then under Democratic control — fired Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau from her dual service as state transportation commissioner and rejected Cheri Pierson Yecke as education commissioner. Some DFL lawmakers suggested Anderson was rejected in retaliation for those 2004 and 2008 votes.
The Senate did separately confirm three other Dayton appointees Monday: Ramona Dohman as commissioner of public safety, Tom Landwehr as commissioner of natural resources and Tom Sorel as commissioner of transportation. Numerous other Dayton appointees await confirmation votes.
Last May, the Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee voted to “decline to recommend” Anderson for the PUC job — an early signal that her job was in trouble. Rosen, who chairs that committee, said she wishes the full Senate had voted on the confirmation soon after the committee action, but said Senate GOP leaders twice delayed the final decision at Dayton’s request to give Anderson a chance to prove herself.
“Over the long term, I do not believe her confirmation would be beneficial to the ratepayers of the state,” Rosen said. She said Anderson’s Senate career was marked by “consistent effort to marginalize traditional sources of energy that she’s now called on to regulate.”
Rosen — whom, Senate Democrats pointed out, co-sponsored dozens of energy-related bills with Anderson when they served together — said she “did not take joy in opposing this nomination.” Anderson, who represented St. Paul in the state Senate from 1992 until Dayton appointed her to the PUC job early in 2011, said the rejection by former colleagues stung.
“It was unfair, it was mean-spirited and it was wrong what they did today,” Anderson said. She declined to speculate on Republican motives — “I really want to stay out of the partisan fray,” she said.
Anderson did take issue with the idea that she would use the post to deal setbacks to traditional energy providers.
“Most of what you do is in a quasi-judicial role, and that means just like anyone else appointed to be a judge, I weigh all the information and evidence in front of me and make the decision I think is best for the state of Minnesota,” Anderson said. “I’m not demonizing anything — yes, I’m a believer that our state and nation should move toward cleaner energy, but that doesn’t mean anything about how I’ll make a decision on any particular issue in front of me.”
The Senate’s vote appeared to particularly anger Dayton, whose response was blistering and wide-ranging. He said Senate Republicans were setting a terrible tone for the new legislation session. And for the first time, Dayton mentioned in critical terms the recent resignation of Sen. Amy Koch as majority leader after colleagues confronted her with allegations of an affair with a Senate employee. Koch later acknowledged the relationship.
“You would think after their leadership scandals, which caused them to replace all of their leaders last month, they would behave themselves for at least a little while,” Dayton said. “However, they seem incapable of doing so.”
Rosen, who has been working closely with Dayton on legislation for the state to partially fund construction of a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, said even in the face of the governor’s anger that she believed Senate Republicans would be able to keep working with him on issues.
“I believe we have to put our boots on and trudge forward,” Rosen said.
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