ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The state Senate on Thursday confirmed five more members of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s cabinet, but not without a brief fight from Republicans.
Most of the appointees sailed through, including Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger. But several Senate Republicans tried to delay the confirmation of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.
Some conservatives have balked at the Department of Education’s proposed revisions to state social studies standards they feel overemphasize some negatives about American history, like slavery and treatment of American Indians.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, wanted to delay Cassellius’ confirmation until an administrative law judge decides “whether or not the commissioner acted in compliance with state law.”
Minnesota law says that an education commissioner needs legislative authorization to change academic benchmarks.
“It looks to me like a major rewrite of American history standards. I want to have a full meeting,” said Republican Sen. Paul Gazelka of Nisswa.
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, a Democrat and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said she disagreed with how Cassellius handled the proposed revisions but asked senators to consider her experience and confirm her. Like many of her fellow commissioners up for confirmation, Cassellius has been on the job since Dayton took office in January 2011.
“It would be a real slap in the face of someone who is really working to move Minnesota forward in its education system,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer.
With Democrats in control of the chamber, Cassellius was ultimately approved on a 45-20 vote. Her confirmation was the only one of the five that required a roll call rather than a simple voice vote.
Senate Republicans also raised some questions about Charles Zelle, whom Dayton plucked from his bus company, Jefferson Lines, in December to take over the Department of Transportation. Sen. John Pederson of St. Cloud suggested that Zelle’s financial stake in the business may be a conflict of interest when doling out federal grants.
But Republicans’ objections to Zelle were not nearly as strong as their opposition to Cassellius, and he was eventually confirmed on a voice vote.
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