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Angry Dayton calls senators unfit to govern after they fire PUC nominee

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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

Hopes for bipartisanship during the 2012 legislative session appear to have evaporated at the State Capitol after Senate Republicans fired one of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's appointees.

The GOP Senate voted along party lines Monday to reject the confirmation of former DFL Sen. Ellen Anderson as chair of the Public Utilities Commission. Dayton reacted angrily to the vote, saying it showed Republicans are unfit to govern.

Soon after the Senate vote, Dayton accused Republicans of "wrongly maligning" Ellen Anderson, and said her confirmation had been "cruelly rejected." Dayton was just warming up. He listed several recent GOP missteps, including last month's resignation of Majority Leader Amy Koch amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a male staffer.

"You'd think that after their leadership scandals, which caused them to replace all of their leaders last month, they would behave themselves for at least a little while," Dayton said. "But they seem incapable of doing so."

Dayton also predicted the vote, which he described as a "mean-spirited partisan stunt," would have a lingering negative effect on the rest of the session. He warned GOP Senate leaders earlier in the day that he thought their relationship moving forward would be severely damaged.

"I'm not going to be able to trust that you mean what you say when you say you want to be bipartisan, you want to be conciliatory, you want to be constructive," Dayton said.

"If they're going to continue this way, they're the ones that bear the responsibility for that kind of division."

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission regulates electricity, natural gas and telephone service. Dayton said he would soon take applications for a replacement chair. He said he plans to hire Anderson at her current salary as his senior adviser on energy policy.

Anderson's nomination started running into trouble last spring when the energy committee that she once chaired voted to send her appointment to the full Senate without recommendation that she be confirmed. During the floor debate that came eight months later, just two Republicans highlighted their concerns.

Sen Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen said she had philosophical disagreements with Anderson. Ortman also explained that she was looking out for utility ratepayers.

"And I believe that they have a very big burden," Ortman said. "Their costs of obtaining utility service has gone up significantly over the last several years. And that is the core of my concern with the confirmation of this particular commissioner."

Anderson has a record of trying to marginalize traditional energy sources, said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the current energy committee chair.

"I look at a public career that has demonized traditional energy sources. I look at derogatory references to quote: 'dirty and dangerous fossil fuels or energy cartels,' that don't reflect well on the nominee," Rosen said. "We all know there is always work to be done to move forward. Outright rejection of energy options that built this country and helped foster the highest living standards in the world is irresponsible."

Rosen later said the vote should have come last session. She said it was Dayton who requested the delay.

Several Senate Democrats defended Anderson's record in the Legislature and with the PUC as fair and objective. They said 97 percent of the commission's votes have been unanimous since Anderson has been chair. There was suggestion that Republicans were seeking political payback for the vote four years ago to oust Carol Molnau as Gov. Tim Pawlenty's transportation commissioner.

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook warned against such tactics, saying "It really will not serve us well in the long run, and governors will have an extremely difficult time having qualified people serve as commissioners, if we're just rejecting on kind of a tit-for-tat basis."

The Senate also voted to confirm three other Dayton appointees. Commissioners of natural resources, public safety and transportation all received strong bipartisan support.