The Minnesota Senate voted along party lines Monday to reject the confirmation of Public Utilities Commission Chairwoman Ellen Anderson, a move top Republicans broadcast late last week.
Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Anderson, a former state senator from St. Paul interested in renewable energy issues, to the post in March. She served on the commission without a vote on her confirmation until today.
Dayton and legislative Democrats waste no time criticizing the vote as politically motivated, and the governor said his relationship with GOP leaders is now “severely damaged.”
He called the move a “partisan ploy” and said that the Senate GOP is running a “partisan, cutthroat operation.” Dayton also pointed to the recent Republican political “scandals” and went through a list of the party’s missteps.
He also said that he is inviting Anderson to join his administration as a senior adviser.
A Senate committee met last May to discuss Anderson’s confirmation, but did not issue a recommendation to the full body, a move many saw as a bad sign for Anderson’s future on the board.
The Senate’s rejection by a vote of 37 to 29 was more personal than other votes about budget legislation and policy provisions. Anderson was a friend and former colleague of many in the body, including GOP Sen. Julie Rosen, who spoke against the confirmation on the grounds that Anderson’s views are “extreme.”
Rosen chairs the committee that decided in May not to recommend Anderson for confirmation. On the Senate floor today, Rosen said she was troubled by Anderson’s “derogatory references to fossil fuels” and said she feared Anderson would not be able to serve impartially in her position as chairwoman.
Sen. Julianne Ortman, the only other Republican to speak against Anderson’s confirmation, had said Friday that it was unlikely Republicans would support the former senator as chairwoman of the board, a five-member panel that regulates Minnesota’s utilities.
Democrats on Monday failed in their effort to have the vote tabled before Anderson could be thrown out.
In a press conference after the Senate floor session, Rosen said voting down Anderson should not have come as a surprise, because the appointment was “controversial from Day One.” But Rosen said she wished the timing had been better.
Dayton had asked former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch to delay the vote and allow Anderson to prove she could manage the commission well. Rosen said it should have been taken care of last session. “To say that this is a big surprise … is short term memory,” she said.
Rosen also said the move wasn’t about retribution for a number of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s appointees that were ousted when the DFL controlled the Senate prior to 2010. This was the first Dayton appointee to be shot down by the GOP-controlled Senate.
“This is very serious, but we have received overwhelming feedback from the public … in opposition,” Rosen said.
Anderson crafted the standards that guide Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and renewable energy standards today. Democrats point out that her voting record as chairwoman of the PUC is in line with the Republican majority on the commission.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved three other state agency heads on Monday.