The Minnesota Senate rejected Governor Walz’s appointee for the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) Commissioner Nancy Leppink in a close vote 34 to 32.
Following the four hour session on Wednesday, the governor’s office issued a news release sharing Leppink’s lengthy career and its successes, as well as statements from various councils and organizations who support her.
Walz tweeted that he was “[d]eeply disappointed Senate Republicans chose to play politics with Minnesotans’ health and safety.” Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan tweeted the decision was “a slap in the face to those who keep us safe.”
She's respected by the workers she fights for and the businesses who want to do right by their employees.
Her talent has never been more critical than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Deeply disappointed Senate Republicans chose to play politics with Minnesotans' health and safety.
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) August 13, 2020
Nancy Leppink was fired by Senate Republicans because she worked tirelessly to protect nurses, teachers, grocery store workers, meat processing plant workers, janitors, and all working Minnesotans in the midst of COVID—19. This is a slap in the face to those who keep us safe.
— Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (@LtGovFlanagan) August 13, 2020
Later that evening, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R- District 9) tweeted about what had transpired:
“Removing a commissioner is serious business entrusted to the Senate. The Governor picks, the Senate confirms. I privately told the Governor in February that the DLI commissioner was not working out. I asked him to find something else for her. That didn’t happen. Today she was not confirmed.”
Removing a commissioner is serious business entrusted to the Senate.The Governor picks,the Senate confirms. I privately told the Gov in Feb that DOLI commissioner was not working out. I asked him to find something else for her. That didn’t happen. Today she was not confirmed.
— Paul Gazelka (@paulgazelka) August 12, 2020
During the session, the matter of appointing Leppink appeared as a last order of business. In Gazelka’s opening remarks, the senator said that he and others felt “she wasn’t doing her job.”
Gazelka then cited Leppink’s shortcomings: burdening businesses struggling through the pandemic with more regulations, encouraging union intrusions, ignoring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s failure to address workplace safety, delaying critical workers compensation legislation for those affected by the pandemic, muddying wage theft laws, and creating unprecedented regulations on youth employment exemptions.
“The DLI is not [just] the Department of Labor. It’s the Department of Labor and Industry. It is a crucial role,” said Gazelka. “Mr. President, she is in the wrong role, in a key role that represents the whole state. As the government interacts with business, the DLI has to have somebody that can connect to labor and connect to industry and work with them in what feels like cooperation, not a hammer that’s about to come down every time they make a misstep.”
Minority Leader Susan Kent (DFL- District 53) responded to Gazelka’s remarks first. The senator said she “took serious issue” with the matter of confirmation being presented at all.
“I want to say that I think this is outrageous, 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.”
Kent also stated that the pandemic is not an appropriate time to take up an issue as serious as a commissioner confirmation and that the Majority Leader left no room for debate.
Gazelka responded that Leppink went through her process and hearing earlier this year without any recommendation, which was “a strong warning of things to come.” He added that Leppink’s appointment would have come up sooner, if not for the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent riots following George Floyd’s death.
Other Senate members who spoke on behalf of ousting Leppink were Carrie Rudd (R-District 10), Jason Rarick (R-District 11), Karin Housley (R- District 39), and Eric Pratt (R-District 55). Each reported hearing from businesses in their areas issue complaints about the DLI regulations for youth employment, wage theft, wedding barns, and operations during the coronavirus. All remarked that Leppink’s approach to her job caused more issues for businesses than benefits.
“With the commissioner, something as simple as ‘how may I help you?’ became a legislative issue,” stated Rudd.
Senate members who supported Leppink never denied any of the allegations made by Senate members opposed to confirming the commissioner; instead, they focused on the lack of warning given to the Senate. Among those who spoke in favor of Leppink were Nick Frentz (DFL-District 19), Melisa Franzen (DFL- District 49), Richard Cohen (DFL-District 64), Jason Isaacson (DFL-District 42), and Karla Bigham (DFL-District 54).
In his closing remarks, Gazelka referenced that Leppink wasn’t the only commissioner who dissatisfied the Senate, mentioning the Commissioner of Deed as one example.
The Senate adjourned sine die. Roslyn Robertson will now serve as the Temporary Commissioner for the DLI.
– – –
Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Minnesota Sun and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Paul Gazelka” by Minnesota Senate Media Services.