Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed long-time DFL State Sen. Larry Pogemiller as the new head of Minnesota's Office of Higher Education.
Dayton's first choice for the cabinet level position resigned in September after only nine months on the job.
Pogemiller said the governor had to convince him to take it. The prospect of leaving the Legislature after serving for three decades is tough, he said.
"I love it dearly as an institution, and the people," he said. "I'm going to miss it."
Pogemiller said the governor told him with new leaders taking the helm at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system this summer, and with the state struggling to fund colleges while dealing with its own budget problems, now is the time for the leader of the Office of Higher Education to step and be a solid advocate for the state's colleges.
"I think this is a wise move for me personally and I hope the governor has chosen wisely and I hope to live to his expectations," he said.
The Office of Higher Education might not be a household name, but it plays a big role in managing the state's portion of financial aid for students. It writes checks for $150 million in aid every year.
It also cranks out a lot of data about enrollment and how well students are doing, which the state's higher education leaders use to make decisions.
Pogemiller expects to start work as early as next week. His departure from the Legislature means Dayton will need to call a special election to fill his seat. The state Senate will eventually have to confirm Pogemiller's appointment when it reconvenes next year.
He said he's confident he'll be voted in. But Republican Sen. Michelle Fischbach, who heads the higher education committee that will take up Pogemiller's appointment, said it's too soon to know what kind of reception he'll get.
"We're much too early in the process to determine whether or not that would be the case. Obviously we have committee hearings and a floor process, the entire process that the Senate goes through," she said.
One DFL lawmaker expressed surprise on Twitter when news of the announcement came out.
State Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville thought Sen. Sandy Pappas, a former chair of the senate's higher education committee, was a better fit for the job. She ended her Tweet with the question, "Too female?". If Pogemiller is confirmed, there will be 19 men on Dayton's cabinet, and only six women.
"The governor is hobnobbing more with men more than women recently and so this would've been a good place to have a strong woman be in place, another woman to work with him," Greiling said.
For her part, Sen. Pappas said she would have left the Legislature after nearly 28 years to take the higher education commissioner's job.
But Pappas said she doesn't have any hard feelings against Pogemiller.
"Sometimes you and your friend are in competition and the better person wins," she said. "I just wish him the best of luck."
Meanwhile, the question remains how the Office of Higher Education got to the point of needing another leader.
Sheila Wright, the dean of education at Hamline University in St. Paul when Dayton appointed her to the higher education position last January. She resigned nine months later after a low-profile tenure. It's unclear if Wright was asked to leave the job.
Wright couldn't be reached for comment.
Pappas said Wright just wasn't a good fit for the job, and wasn't comfortable with either the management involved, or the political nature of the position.
Pogemiller said that's something that won't bother him, and thinks his experience as a politician could come in handy in the commissioner's position.