Senate Republicans have voted down the appointment Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Chairwoman Ellen Anderson, a former DFL senator from St. Paul who was picked by Gov. Mark Dayton for the job last year.
Anderson was voted down in the chamber in which she served for nearly 20 years on a 37-29 party-line vote on Monday. Democrats defended their former Senate colleague and her record at the PUC, which regulates energy and telecommunications matters in the state.
“Ellen Anderson’s record on the Public Utilities Commission is beyond reproach. It is exactly what we want,” said DFL Sen. Scott Dibble, noting that she voted alongside other members of the PUC, some of which are Republicans, in almost every instance in the last year.
Republican Sen. Julie Rosen, who chairs the Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee, said Anderson’s record on energy issues in the Senate draws her role at the PUC into question. “I have deep concerns about her efforts to marginalize sources of energy she is now expected to regulate,” Rosen said, adding that Anderson has a “public career of demonizing” fossil fuels.
During her time in the Legislature, Anderson was an opponent of efforts to lift a moratorium on building new nuclear power plants in Minnesota, a key bill pushed under the new Republican majorities. Anderson spent years developing the state’s renewable energy standard law, which requires most Minnesota utilities to provide 25 percent of energy from renewable resources by the year 2025.
Anderson was appointed to her position with the PUC last March, but Republicans signaled their distaste for her selection near the end of the 2011 session, when they took up her appointment in committee and sent it to the floor without recommendation.
Anderson is the first Dayton appointment to be denied by the chamber. Senators confirmed several other appointments with bipartisan support on Monday, including Public Safety Commissioner Ramona Dohman, Department of Natural Resources head Tom Landwehr and Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter will face a confirmation hearing in the Senate Finance Committee this week.
Capitol watchers from both sides of the aisle claimed the move was a means of “political payback” for Senate Democrats’ rejection of former Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau as transportation commissioner in 2008, after the collapse of the I-35W Bridge. Senate Democrats also denied Cheri Yecke as education commissioner in 2004.
DFL senators decried the move as another partisan attack early in the 2012 session. Last week Senate Republicans voted to cut the DFL minority budget by $444,000. “This is as partisan as it gets,” said DFL Sen. Mary Jo McGuire, who took Anderson’s seat in the chamber after she stepped down to join the PUC.
“It’s a sad day, ” DFL Minority Leader Tom Bakk said. “This does not set a good tone for the body for the session.”
Dayton was enraged by the move on Monday, saying Senate Republicans had “smeared” Anderson on the floor.
“You would think after their leadership scandals, which caused them to replace all of their leaders last month, they would behave themselves for at least a little while,” Dayton said referring to the scandal surrounding former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. He added that he is “mystified” by their partisan approach to the start of the session, which has “severely damaged” the governor’s trust.
Dayton says he has offered Anderson a position in his administration as a senior adviser on energy issues. Anderson would make about $88,000 a year in that role, the same amount she was making as PUC chair. Anderson told the Associated Press that she’s not sure if she will accept the position.
Rosen defended her move in a news conference after the vote. “Ellen Anderson’s appointment was frankly controversial from day one, so I’m a little surprised why everyone is so surprised.”
Rosen said her only regret is that Anderson’s appointment wasn’t voted down on the floor last spring immediately after her confirmation hearing in committee. She added that this is not political pay back for past Pawlenty commissioner rejections, and that she was directly addressing the concerns of utilities and others.