Pawlenty names new DNR head, accepts chief of staff resignation

Gov. Pawlenty picked Mark Holsten as deputy DNR commissioner in 2003. Holsten was previously a Republican state representative from Stillwater. For the past four years he's been in charge of the agency's legislative and budgetary functions, as well as general administrative oversight of operations.

"He has served as the deputy, the number two person in the agency for the last four years," said Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung. "The governor believes that Mark Holsten has the experience, talent and know how to build on the work that has been done at DNR for the last four years and to bring some additional reform and accountability. So, we're very excited about having Mark in the top spot at DNR."

As commissioner, Holsten becomes the administrative and executive head of the DNR. His authority covers public lands and waters, state parks and forests, timber, mineral resources, recreational trails and wildlife. Holsten takes over for Gene Merriam, who announced earlier this month that he was leaving before the start of Gov. Pawlenty's second

term. Holsten says some of the challenges facing the DNR center on water use and quality, exotic species and the forest economy. Holsten says his approach to the job will be a lot like Merriam's.

"He put this agency I think on strong footing through very difficult, tumultuous times, both budget and policy directives that we've been having to deal with. And we need to finish some of those off. Those are not fully complete yet," he said.

Holsten's appointment was predictable, according to Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation. Botzek says he was pleased to hear about Holsten's promotion.

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"I don't think a lot of people were surprised that he got the job," Botzek said. "He's trained for it, he's worked on it and worked hard at it for four years as the deputy. It's a natural promotion, and we're real excited and proud for him."

The governor named two more commissioners. He appointed Cal Ludeman to head the Department of Human Services. Brad Moore will take the reigns at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Both men were serving as acting commissioners. Pawlenty called them "exceptional leaders" of important agencies.

The governor's office also announced the resignation of Pawlenty's chief of staff David Gaither, who is leaving "to explore other opportunities." Gaither is a former Republican state senator from Plymouth, who became chief of staff in September 2005. "Chief of staff is a high intensity, high velocity kind of job," spokesman McClung said. "So, Chief of Staff Gaither felt this was a good time to explore other opportunities. And it is a natural time for people to look at other options take a chance to move on as you transition from the first term to the second."

Gaither's resignation opens a key vacancy in the governor's office just 16 days before the start of the 2007 Legislative session. McClung says Gov. Pawlenty expects to fill the position within the next month.