Sunday, February 05, 2012

Republican "watch list" is a search for leverage

In the aftermath of Ellen Anderson's disconfirmation, any number of theories and explanations for the Senate GOP caucus's actions were bandied about. Was it Anderson's hatred of "traditional energy sources" (presumably peat, wood, and manure)? Payback for DFL votes against confirming Pawlenty  appointees Carol Molnau and Cheri Pierson Yecke? An attempt to turn up the heat at the beginning of session? A distraction from the litany of Senate GOP scandals? Just politics?

Before the dust could settle from Ellen Anderson's rejection by the GOP-led Senate, on Friday Majority Leader David Senjem kicked it up again. It's clear that confirmation politics are far from over at the Capitol since we know that Minnesota Pollution Control Administration (MPCA) Commissioner Paul Aasen and Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger are on a "watch list" of Dayton appointees that might be subject to confirmation votes. Suddenly, the picture becomes very clear - Senate Republicans are tying the confirmation of commissioners as leverage on specific policy issues.

MPCA Commissioner Aasen's being held hostage over a bill that would gut environmental permitting and outsource the MPCA. Health Commission Ehlinger's become the whipping boy for Senator Hann's crusade against health care reform. In both cases, the message is "your commissioner or our policy." And if anyone understands the concept of quid pro quo better than the Republican Senate leadership, I haven't met them yet.

I'll write more about SF 1567 this week, but this environmental permitting bill is extreme in every sense of the word. A 150 day clock on a permit application would start, even if the initial application is incomplete or in error. Hand picked corporate consultants would get to approve permits, with only "clearly erroneous" approvals subject to veto by the MPCA. Businesses could start construction before permits are approved, and once approved the permit would be irrevocable. SF 1567 has already passed one committee and is on a fast track. Governor Dayton, who adroitly stole the Republican's thunder on environmental permit reform last session when he used an executive order to implement much of HF 1, is said to oppose SF 1567. Putting Aasen on a watch list is a not-so-subtle way of reminding Dayton that a veto could come at a cost.

Ehlinger is caught up in an ongoing feud between Health and Human Services Committee Chair David Hann and Governor Dayton on health care issues. This week, the issue was Minnesota's preparations for a health plan exchange under the Affordable Care Act. In November, it was Hann's attempt to block the state from receiving federal health care grants. The saber-rattling over whether a health care exchange could be implemented through executive action or whether it requires legislation may determine Ehlinger's fate. After all, Hann said so back in November:
“My working relationship with both Commissioner Ehlinger and Commissioner Jesson has been, in my opinion, good,” Hann said. “I’ve had conversations, though, to try to make clear that particularly with the exchange issue, we believe [it] needs to be addressed by the Legislature, and we would take a dim view of the administration deliberately going around the oversight of the Legislature to do what it wants to do. “And to the extent that commissioners are willing to cooperate in doing that,” he added, “that is certainly going to bear on our assessment of their ability to act in a way that we believe is consistent with the law and with the intent and the interests of the public.”
After the outcry over Anderson's disconfirmation, Republicans are likely to try it again. Will Bureau of Mediation Services Commissioner Josh Tilsen be the next on the watch list if child care unionization moves forward?

The analysis of Anderson's unceremonious dumping has focused too much on grudges, personalities, and platitudes. The real story is a Republican legislature searching for leverage against an effective Governor who is utilizing the full range of executive branch tools at his disposal.

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