Senate expected to reject Dayton's utilities appointment

Ellen Anderson
Former state Sen. Ellen Anderson was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to chair the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in 2011. Anderson, a DFLer, served in the Legislature for nearly 20 years prior to her appointment.
Photo courtesy of the Public Utilities Commission

The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate is expected to effectively fire one of Gov. Mark Dayton's key appointees.

Senate leaders said Friday that they likely will reject former DFL Sen. Ellen Anderson's confirmation as chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission on Monday. Dayton decried the decision.

Deputy Senate Republican Majority Leader Julianne Ortman said when the Senate meets Monday the commissioners of public safety, transportation and natural resources are likely to win confirmation. But Ortman said Public Utilities Commission chairman Ellen Anderson is not.

"I don't know what the vote will be but as I said, indicators from committee are that she didn't fare well, and it's likely that she will not get confirmed," Ortman said.

Ortman wouldn't say how she intends to vote on Anderson's confirmation. She said she would discuss the issue with other members of the Republican caucus before Monday's vote.

Anderson, a former DFL senator from St. Paul, authored the state's renewable energy standard. Dayton chose her to head the utilities commission, which regulates electricity, natural gas and telephone companies.

Ortman said Anderson's record on energy issues is extreme and out of line with most Minnesotans' views.

"She's got a tough record for job providers, job creators, the ratepayers," Ortman said. "Her work has created some controversy. It makes it very difficult to confirm a commissioner who is as controversial as she has been."

Ortman declined to discuss specifics. But Anderson has long opposed efforts to lift a moratorium on new nuclear power plants in Minnesota, which puts her at odds with the state's business community. The renewable energy standard Anderson supported led to increased development of wind power and alternative fuels and was also backed by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

If the Senate rejects Anderson's confirmation, she would have to leave the job she's been doing for the past year. Anderson did not return calls for comment about GOP opposition to her appointment.

But Senate Democrats reacted angrily.

"Until Senator Anderson does something, casts some vote that gives them some reason, to simply take her down because she's a former DFL Senator is another blatant, partisan attack," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Dayton told a gathering hosted by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the Minnesota Council on Foundations that he doesn't think Anderson did anything wrong. He said there have been 224 votes since Anderson took office in March. He said 201 votes were unanimous and Anderson voted just six times in the minority.

"The people of Minnesota — they want us to work together. They want us to reconcile our differences. They want us to compromise as we'll have to because we're coming from different perspectives. And they want us to get about jobs and other things," Dayton said. "They don't want us to be involved in petty revenge for something that happened four years ago."

Dayton was referring to the rejection of two of Pawlenty's commissioners when Democrats controlled the Senate.

In 2004 they rejected Cheri Yecke as education commissioner. In 2008, after the 35-W bridge collapse, the Senate rejected former Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau as transportation commissioner.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said those confirmation votes have nothing to do with the vote on Anderson. But he didn't specify the reasons the Republican majority wants her out.

"They'll be expressed on the floor if there are some," Senjem said. "We have some people that have concerns. Other people know her less and maybe don't have concerns. We're just going to wait until the floor on that one."

The Senate has not rejected any of Dayton's other appointments so far.