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Sviggum’s confirmation: Smooth going…so far

Addressing the media at the Capitol Friday, state Sen. Tarryl Clark, the DFLer from St. Cloud who is the assistant majority leader, answered the usual questions about the Vikings stadium, the bonding bill and budget issues. But previewing the coming week, Clark let slip that there would be confirmation hearings for a number of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s appointees.

Talk turned to former House Speaker Steve Sviggum, the 15-term Republican state rep who was appointed by Pawlenty in July to be commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry.

“People question him being in that position,” Clark said. “His track record on labor is very low.” And, she said, there are questions about the types of proposals he has for industry.

Lest anyone think that any rockiness Sviggum may suffer during confirmation hearings be political, Clark added: “Had it been for the DNR or Agriculture [department positions] it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

Maybe. But certainly Sviggum comes with a track record of strong support for Pawlenty, and the governor singled Sviggum out as a close friend the night he won reelection in November 2006. In the Senate, where DFLers outnumber GOPers two-to-one, Sviggum could become the next victim of political retribution against the governor. Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau’s rejection as transportation commissioner by the Senate earlier this session still casts a small pall around the Capitol.

Fair and balanced

But Monday’s hearing in front of the Senate’s Business, Industry and Jobs Committee indicated that Senate Democrats aren’t in the mood to muddy the reputation of Sviggum, who is admired by some on both sides of the aisle.

For about 10 minutes, Sviggum told committee members all he’s done in the post thus far and what he plans to do as labor commissioner: “Be a regulator, in a fair and just way, for all the citizens of Minnesota.”

Early on, even the Democrats played nice. “I just want to say that there were some people, many people, that were quite concerned going in that there could be a little partisanship here,” said committee Chair Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, adding that someone had to mention it. “What I’ve seen, you’ve become a pretty good regulator and administrator in your department. …You’ve been very fair and balanced.”

Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, was — not surprisingly — eager to grease the skids. “He’s just a good, decent guy,” Day said. “As far as how well he’s doing in the job, I don’t know. But I know that he will do well, because he’s that type guy.”

Sviggum told Jim Carlson, a DFLer from Eagan: “My role, Senator Carlson, probably has changed somewhat. My hat has changed from that of an advocate to that as a regulator for all citizens, in the best interest of the state.” Lest anyone think politics might be involved in his appointment.

Apparently bias issues were appeased, because after 40 minutes, the committee approved Sviggum’s confirmation by a unanimous voice vote.

His appointment will now go before the full Senate.

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