Rothman wins committee backing

Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 30, 2014. St. Paul, MN. Tom Scheck |MPR News

The Senate Commerce Committee voted 8-3 Thursday to recommend Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman be confirmed by the Senate for a second term.

Several committee members praised Rothman’s work aimed at preventing fraud and protecting seniors.

After the vote, Rothman said he’s relieved to win the support.

“I’m happy that I got the confidence of the committee, the confirmation vote and, again, proud to have the opportunity. It’s always a privilege and an honor to serve Minnesota,” Rothman said.

The three Republicans who voted against Rothman’s confirmation said they were concerned about how Rothman handled health insurance rates in the state’s MnSure program and about his oversight of the nonprofit Community Action of Minneapolis. They spent most of the committee grilling him over his time as commissioner.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he didn’t think Rothman has been forthcoming with the public.

“I feel like there’s too much dodging and deflection,” said Gazelka. “It feels like deception on some levels.”

Republicans also scrutinized Rothman over how he handled oversight of Community Action of Minneapolis.

A court appointed receiver is winding down the nonprofit after an audit found that the agency’s CEO, Bill Davis, spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on trips, a car lease and other perks.

Several members of the committee asked why Rothman didn’t take stronger action when his department learned Community Action of Minneapolis misspent $1.3 million in state and federal funds in 2011. Rothman said he believes the department handled the situation appropriately.

Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, has been critical of Davis’ role at the nonprofit for years but praised Rothman’s role as commissioner.

“Commissioner Rothman was the first commissioner in the 24 years that Mr. Davis held that job that ever looked into the problem with Mr. Davis,” Goodwin said. “I do believe that he’s the best commissioner that we have had in Commerce in a very long time.”

Rothman also said that Commerce Department staffers are working with the FBI to investigate Community Action of Minneapolis.

"The FBI is looking into some of the reports in the DHS document and some of the receiver information," he said.

Rothman declined to comment further about the FBI investigation but said a separate investigation by his department into Community Action of Minneapolis should wrap up in June.

A court-appointed receiver confirmed in court documents earlier this year that the FBI has contacted him about his work in winding down the non-profit’s finances.

Davis has denied any wrongdoing.

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