Gov. Mark Dayton has tapped Hamline University professor Lucinda Jesson to direct the Department of Human Services and state Rep. Tony Sertich to run Iron Range Resources Board.
Sertich is the first lawmaker to be appointed to the Dayton administration, meaning Dayton will have to call a special election to replace Sertich.
Jesson, who directs Hamline's Health Law Institute, is a former prosecutor and deputy attorney general who first served on Dayton's transition team.
Jesson will have one of the toughest jobs in state government; health care costs are growing more rapidly than other parts of state government, and subsidized health care programs will likely be a top target for cuts as Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature look to erase a $6.2 billion projected budget deficit.
Jesson will be expected to manage any cuts and implement the state's transfer of some 95,000 people to the federal Medicaid program. Dayton signed an executive order allowing for the Medicaid expansion, but it isn't clear how long the transition would take.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's DHS commissioner said it would take up to 10 months, but Dayton has said that's unacceptable. In an interview Tuesday with MPR's Morning Edition, Jesson acknowledged it won't happen right away but said she was optimistic it could be done sooner than Pawlenty's administration said.
"I think we can roll this out in a much quicker fashion," she told Morning Edition.
Jesson said implementing the Medicaid expansion will be her first priority. She also said she expects there will be difficult decisions to make about budget cuts.
"I think we have to approach the budget with the goal of preserving the safety net for the ill, the poor and the disadvantaged that the department serves. But we also need to maximize federal reimbursement, we need to create efficiencies," she said.
Jesson said she also plans to reach out to people who may have ideas on how to run the state's health and human services programs better.
"Minnesota has had a history of innovation (in health and human services)," Jesson said. "I really want to work with others to have Minnesota again be known as a place that's creative and innovative."
Sen. David Hann, a Republican from Eden Prairie and chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, wouldn't comment Tuesday on whether Jesson should be confirmed. But he said the state's large budget deficit will force Jesson to deal with budget cuts.
"My interest in the committee is to make sure that we're doing things that are working because we have appropriate priorities and that we stop or change things that aren't working so well," said Hann, who spoke with Jesson Tuesday morning. "I'm not sure yet how well defined some of the expectations are of certain the programs and we need to understand that more."
Hann said his approach to appointments is to give deference to Dayton but ensure that Jesson has the right capabilities to run the department.
SPECIAL ELECTION TO REPLACE SERTICH FEB. 15
As for Dayton's Iron Range Resources Board appointment, Sertich was expected to appear at a news conference in his hometown of Chisholm. He'll be tasked with crafting a vision to help revitalize northeastern Minnesota.
Dayton said in a written statement that Sertich "will provide the strong leadership that the agency needs to fulfill its important mission to the people on the Iron Range."
The Iron Range Resources Board was created in 1941 to develop and diversify the economy on the Iron Range.
"As a fourth-generation Ranger, there is nothing more important to me than seeing my home region's economy strengthened, and that it provide more opportunities now and for future generations," Sertich said in a news release.
Sertich will resign his House seat on Thursday. Dayton said a special primary for the seat will be held Feb. 1, and the special election will be held Feb. 15.
Sertich's district, which includes Chisholm, is considered a DFL stronghold.
(MPR's Cathy Wurzer contributed to this report.)