Senate Republicans reject Gov. Walz Commissioner Nancy Leppink

For the first time since 2008, a Minnesota governor’s cabinet member has been rejected in the confirmation process by the Minnesota Senate. On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 34-32 along party lines to reject the confirmation of Nancy Leppink, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

The unexpected move came shortly after the Minnesota House voted not to take up a vote on whether to extend the governor’s "emergency powers" for another 30 days. The Senate had voted earlier in the afternoon to end those powers, but it requires the approval of both chambers. So the governor’s powers remain intact for him to respond to the coronavirus pandemic as he sees fit without needing approval from the legislature.

"She is in the wrong role in a key role that represents the whole state as government is interacting with business," Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said on the Senate floor as he brought up Leppink’s confirmation vote. "The Department of Labor and Industry has to have somebody who can connect to labor and connect to industry and work with them in what feels like cooperation, not a hammer that is about to come down every time they make a misstep."

Republicans say they had problems with Leppink on a wide range of issues, including COVID-19 workers’ compensation, wage theft, youth employment and regulation of "wedding barns."

Democrats said it was all about political payback because the governor won’t give up his emergency powers.

"I want to say I think this is outrageous," DFL Minority Leader Susan Kent said on the Senate floor. "It is a travesty and it is absolutely not fitting of the Minnesota Senate to handle something of this serious nature without due notice that this would be discussed."

Gazelka says he’s told the governor for several months that Leppink’s job was in jeopardy. At the end of the session he hinted there could soon be hearings on other commissioners.

At a hastily called news conference Wednesday night, Gov. Tim Walz criticized the confirmation rejection as a "petty political move" that he says he didn’t see coming.

Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty had two commissioners rejected when he was governor, including Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau who was also his lieutenant governor. In 2004, Democrats rejected Cheri Pierson Yecke as education commissioner.

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated with the correct spelling of Leppink’s name