Democrats want Molnau to quit MnDOT

Molnau under fire
Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who is also Minnesota's transportation commissioner, is under renewed fire from DFLers over her handling of the state's transportation needs.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

A handful of DFL legislators stood near the Lafayette Bridge in downtown St. Paul to make their case for change at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said the rusted, worn-out bridge is much like the leadership at MnDOT.

Sen. Steve Murphy
Sen. Steve Murphy said he waited until now to call for Carol Molnau's ouster so he could get more information about the situation at the Transportation Department. He said he's not getting answers to all his questions.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"The depth of ineptitude at the top of MnDOT has got to stop. We need someone in there that is a professional, that knows engineering, that knows transportation. And that is not Carol Molnau," Murphy said.

As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Murphy has been bumping heads with Molnau in her role as commissioner for four years. The Senate has yet to confirm Molnau's appointment for the Pawlenty administration's second term. Murphy says the Senate declined to vote on her confirmation as commissioner as a way to keep peace with Gov. Pawlenty and try to pass a comprehensive transportation bill. But Murphy has grown increasingly frustrated with Pawlenty. The governor has vetoed two transportation bills in the last three years, and Pawlenty and DFL legislative leaders failed to reach agreement on dealing with transportation funding in a recent special session.

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Murphy says the governor has been in a state of denial since the 35W bridge collapse.

"This adamant denial that we have a problem in the state of Minnesota with the administration at MnDOT is outrageous," Murphy said. "The denial that we have a problem with our road, bridge and transit infrastructure has got to stop."

Sen. Kathy Saltzman
Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, called for an outside investigation into MnDOT's top management and engineering staff, and said removing Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau would help restore public trust.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

If Gov. Pawlenty doesn't fire Molnau as commissioner, Murphy predicts the Minnesota Senate will vote down her confirmation within the first few days of the 2008 legislative session.

DFL lawmakers are also calling for a thorough review of MnDOT management practices.

Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, says she's concerned that too many skilled engineers and other employees have left the department.

"I believe that the top management of MnDOT needs to be re-assessed," she said. "I believe that we need to look at cleaning house. And the most important thing that we need to do right now is make sure we restore the trust and confidence of the public."

Brian McClung
Gov. Pawlenty's spokesman Brian McClung said Molnau is not going anywhere.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Neither the governor nor lieutenant governor were available for comment. But Gov. Pawlenty's spokesman Brian McClung said Molnau is not going anywhere.

"Gov. Pawlenty is not going to fire Lt. Gov. Molnau. We've heard these kinds of calls from Sen. Murphy multiple times in the past. And we're hopeful that he'll be able to move beyond these personal attacks to work with us together to find a compromise, comprehensive transportation plan," McClung said.

McClung said he wouldn't speculate on a possible Senate move in February to oust Molnau. He says the more pressing matter for Murphy and other legislative leaders is to approve MnDOT's request for greater spending authority in connection with the 35W bridge reconstruction.

That disagreement is expected to come to a head Monday when a special legislative panel takes up the matter.