It was a bit of a “wait, what?” moment during Gov. Tim Walz’s press conference to promote his new and enlarged tax rebate check plan.
If it is such a popular idea, why doesn’t the DFL governor call a special session and put pressure on the Legislature – especially the Republican-led Senate – to pass it. Would they want to appear to be standing between Minnesota families and two grand each?
His stated reasoning had nothing to do with checks or elections or the odds of success.
“Because I want a health commissioner, because I’d like a public safety commissioner,” Walz said, referencing Jan Malcolm and John Harrington who have drawn criticism and threats of removal from GOP senators. In 2020, two commissioners were fired by the Senate and a third resigned in 2021 when threatened with removal.
“We’ve seen the political, outrageous behavior of removing commissioners at will,” Walz said. “We’re not going to come back until we get an agreement on this.”
Has Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller renewed a threat to hold confirmation votes on additional commissioners? No, Walz said. But he’s just making sure.
“Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me three times,” he said. “I’m not going for four. The history of how the GOP Senate has acted around confirmations, they have earned the reputation that I think I should be incredibly skeptical. If they get called back and they don’t want to be here, we’ve seen them take retribution on good public servants for no reason but political vindictiveness.”
Later Wednesday, however, Miller said the Senate has no intention of bringing up confirmations if a special session is called.
“At this point in time there is no reason to have any of the commissioners on the table,” Miller said. “As of right now we have no plan to bring up any commissioners. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Threats of firings, especially of Malcolm, had stood in the way of Walz calling special sessions last fall to respond to issues such as drought relief and pandemic economic assistance. At that time, Miller wouldn’t say appointees wouldn’t be removed, although he did offer a trade of keeping Malcolm but imposing restrictions on Walz’s power to require vaccines among state workers. Walz wouldn’t take the offer.
Early in this year’s legislative session, the pair argued about commissioners during a panel discussion, with Miller reserving the Senate’s right to pass judgment on commissioners and Walz complaining that it should be done at the beginning of a governor’s term, not held over the administration for four years. He also said they were used to retaliate against Walz policies.
But during a session for the MinnPost Festival in April, Miller said he would no longer bring commissioner’s up for a vote.
“There are three and a half weeks of session. I think it is highly unlikely that any confirmation votes would come up between now and the end of session, unless something pops up that I’m not aware of,” Miller said.
Walz’s renewed fears of confirmation fights is “news to me,” Miller said. The pair had spent time together this past Saturday during a dedication of a veterans facility in Winona and neither the special session, the rebate checks or commissioners was raised by the governor, Miller said.
Like many states, Minnesota allows political appointees to serve before they are confirmed by the state Senate, and many of those appointees serve their entire time in their posts without getting an up or down vote.
But that also means the appointees can be brought up for a vote at any time, leaving them subject to ongoing pressure from lawmakers. The catch: only while in session can the Senate exercise its constitutional authority to confirm — or not confirm — a governor’s top appointees.
Governors can convene a special session but not put limits on what can be done once called – not the number of days or the subject matter. In the past, governors and legislative leaders have struck agreements as to what can be considered and other ground rules. That is what Walz said he would demand from Senate leaders. But Miller has said he has no interest in a special session and doesn’t support Walz’s call for large tax rebate checks, preferring the Senate GOP’s larger tax rate reduction.