Minnesota Senate votes to remove Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley

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Minnesota Senate Republicans, joined by DFL Sen. Tom Bakk, voted to "not confirm" Steve Kelley as Commerce Commissioner on Friday, effectively removing him from the job.

It was the second cabinet member removal in as many special sessions as Gov. Tim Walz extended his peacetime emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the Senate rejected Nancy Leppink, the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. At the time, it was the first time the Senate had turned down a cabinet member since 2008.

Walz signs executive order extending peacetime emergency aimed at pandemic

In August, Kelley drew sharp criticism after he appealed the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 pipeline replacement.

"This is something we brought to the governor early in February when there wasn’t any of the friction of COVID, no friction of the riots — but just a commissioner not doing their job," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said on the Senate floor.

Walz fired back, saying Kelley is a "true public servant" whose firing was unwarranted.

"Senate Republicans could‘ve used the special session to help us fight COVID-19," Walz wrote on Twitter. "Instead they chose to fight me, firing someone charged with protecting Minnesotans during this pandemic."

House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, accused Senate Republicans of "making it harder to fight this virus" instead of working with the governor.

“It’s irresponsible for Republicans to continue to target individuals over a political disagreement with the Governor,” Hortman said in a statement.