New Walz cabinet picks include ex-police chief, tax expert

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz chose an ex-police chief Wednesday to be Minnesota’s top cop and picked one of the Legislature’s top tax experts as his chief tax collector.

The Democratic governor announced six appointments altogether to fill out his cabinet as he prepares for his second term. Most of his agency heads are coming back, but six slots were open — mostly because of commissioners retiring or taking other jobs.

Bob Jacobson, a former New Brighton public safety director and police chief, will take over as commissioner of public safety. He’ll replace John Harrington, who helped lead the state’s response to the violence that followed the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. Since stepping down in New Brighton in 2016, Jacobson has held a series of other posts, most recently as the state’s interim deputy assistant commissioner of human services and as interim chief of police and emergency management director in Stillwater.

Outgoing House Taxes Committee Chairman Paul Marquardt, of Dilworth, will become revenue commissioner. Marquardt had opted not to seek reelection to a 12th term in the Minnesota House, where he was one of the leading Democratic voices on tax issues, serving for four years as chairman.

Former St. Cloud Area Public Schools Superintendent Willie Jett was named education commissioner to replace Heather Mueller, whose agency was rocked when $250 million in fraud was uncovered in pandemic feeding programs for schoolchildren. Jett currently teaches leadership development at the University of Minnesota College of Education.

Brooke Cunningham, who leads equity work at the Minnesota Department of Health, will move up to replace Commissioner Jan Malcolm, one of the leading faces of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ida Rukavina, executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, will become commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, an economic development agency for northeastern Minnesota. She’s the daughter of the state Rep. Tom Rukavina, a colorful and powerful figure in Iron Range politics, who died in 2019.

Nicole Blissbach will become permanent as commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry after serving as the agency’s temporary head since August.

While cabinet posts are subject to confirmation by the Minnesota Senate, that’s not likely to be much of an issue in 2023. Senate Democrats will hold a one-seat majority when the Legislature convenes Jan. 3. The outgoing Senate Republican majority fired or forced out a few members of Walz’s original cabinet, while maintaining leverage over most of the rest by never giving them up-or-down confirmation votes.

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