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Senate Wins Showdown with Ventura
by Laura McCallum
February 24, 2000
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For the first time in several decades, the Minnesota Senate has rejected a governor's cabinet appointee. Steve Minn was Governor Jesse Ventura's choice to head a merged Commerce and Public Service Department. The governor says the Senate vote shows that a commissioner's qualifications are less important than currying favor with legislators.

THE SENATE DECISION was overwhelming, and bipartisan - 44-20 to reject Minn as commerce commissioner and 41-23 to oust him as public service commissioner. DFL Senator Steve Novak of New Brighton, one of Minn's harshest critics, says Governor Ventura's merger of the two departments bypassed the Legislature, and Minn lied about the merger to Senators. He also accused Minn of ethical lapses by asking two top utility executives to contact the Senate majority leader about the merger. Novak says these reasons justify voting no on Minn's confirmation.
Minn: So unless the Minnesota Senate wants to adopt a process that says the only time we're going to turn somebody down when a governor brings us an appointment is if they admit in advance that they committed a felony, we might as well forget about the Senate confirmation process. This is a matter of trust, it's a matter of character, it's a matter of the Minnesota Senate doing its job.
"That says "Jesse Ventura, Governor," it doesn't say "Roger Moe, Governor." If I recall, he finished third."

- Governor Ventura
Senators who voted to keep Minn on the job cited his qualifications to run the merged agency, and his expertise in telecommunications reform and other commerce policies. Governor Ventura says Minn's dismissal will set back telecommunications reform, and he reacted angrily to the decision, charging Senators with playing politics.
Ventura: And what they showed me clearly is that qualifications don't matter, kissing their butt does.
Ventura says Minn's brutal confirmation experience will make it tougher to recruit talented commissioners from the private sector. Minn agreed.
Minn: This is a wake-up call, that if you're going to be a type-A personality, if you're going to be aggressive about where you want to make a change in government, if you have a governor who's supporting you, but yet you're going to step on toes by being a member of the governor's team, think twice before you get into public service.
Minn plans to return to the private sector, but hasn't ruled out working for the Ventura administration in another capacity after the session ends. Minn and the governor say they're glad the Senate took a public vote on the confirmation, so that members can be held accountable for their actions.

DFL Senator John Hottinger of Mankato says Senators voted their conscience, and were not told how to vote.
Hottinger: I've also seen discussion in the press that this was some negotiating ploy. And I even saw one quote in one story ... we should vote on the floor, not have this done in the back room of a conference committee. Well, colleagues, I'm not quite sure how we get this to a conference committee, but I don't think and I have never heard from any member of this body that we should use Mr. Minn's confirmation vote as a negotiation on anything.
Although the Minn decision may not be a negotiating tool for the session, it has clearly harmed relations between the governor and the Senate, at least in the short term. Ventura says Senators are simply mad that he made an executive decision to merge two departments after they had gone home, and he took a parting jab at DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe.
Moe: On my merger, should I have called a special session? Should I have left the department blank of a commissioner 'til they came back, so that I could walk over and ask permission? Excuse me, that says "Jesse Ventura Governor," it doesn't say "Roger Moe, Governor." If I recall, he finished third.
Moe appears equally angry with what he sees as the Ventura administration's unwillingness to try to find a way out of a messy Minn vote. Governor Ventura has used his radio show and JesseNet e-mail list of supporters to try to get Minnesotans outraged about Minn's confirmation process, but most Senators say they haven't heard much from the public. The Senate may be betting that despite the governor's popularity, his choice of commerce commissioner is not something most people care about.