In the Spotlight

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In a Fightin' Mood
by Martin Kaste
February 3, 2000
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A key state Senate committee has voted overwhelmingly against Governor Ventura's choice for commerce commissioner. The vote is a strong indication that the full Senate will also vote against the nominee, former Minneapolis city council member Steve Minn, and many Senators say Ventura should regard the action as a rebuke for what they see as his uncooperative governing style.

Steve Minn knew he was in for a rough ride with the Senate Jobs, Energy & Community Development Committee. State Senators confirm all commissioners and department heads, and Minn needed them to okay his double role as Ventura's Commissioner of Commerce and Public Service. Many Senators have expressed irritation at what they see as Ventura's heavy-handed attempt to merge the two departments without legislators' input, and Minn went into the committee meeting trying to mend fences.
Minn: What I can tell you is that we've made a few mistakes in the administration, I've certainly made some mistakes along the way. Were I to do it all over again, I would clearly prefer full involvement.
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See the Ventura administration's outline for combining the Commerce Department and the Public Service Department.
But the Senators were not in a conciliatory mood. Senators from both parties voted overwhelmingly to deny Minn both his jobs, and Senate leaders made it known that a similar vote could be expected from the full Senate. Majority Leader Roger Moe called on Minn to resign.

Minn's chief critic was committee chairman Steve Novak, who said he opposed the confirmation in part because he thinks the department mergers are not a good idea.
Novak: They have combined the regulation of seven industries that together have a multi-billion-dollar impact on the economy of this state. Nobody was asked their opinion, the public was not allowed the opportunity to weigh in. Previous employees of this department have come to me expressing concerns about the inability now of the department to respond in its regulatory mode, and also, whether the public will be adequately protected.
""We would all be better served if he spent just a little more time learning the processes of government and working with us in a more cooperative way."

- Sen. Steve Novak
But Novak also made it clear that the vote was meant as a message to Governor Ventura about his governing style.
Novak: I would suggest to him as a friend and a colleague in this state government of ours, that we would all be better served if he spent just a little more time learning the processes of government and working with us in a more cooperative way.
Commissioner Minn would not comment on the vote, but within hours, Governor Ventura called Capitol reporters together to lash out at what he sees as legislative vindictiveness.
Ventura: Judge him on his qualifications to do the job, don't judge him because there may be people over there who may be angry with me as a governor. And this is their recourse? They will take it out on Commissioner Steve Minn instead of me? I ask them to come over and look me eye to eye.
And there is a growing number of legislators at the state Capitol willing to say they don't like Ventura. Shortly after the Senate committee vote, the Minnesota House took up the possibility of overriding one of Ventura's vetoes from the end of last year, specifically a veto of planning money for a state World War II memorial.

One representative after another took turns on the floor to criticize the governor for vetoing the money and to express how they were insulted by the infamous "pig stamp" that Ventura used when he vetoed it; his way of calling it "pork."

In the end the House voted not to override the veto, mainly because Speaker Steve Sviggum does not want to antagonize Ventura right off the bat.

Still, the atmosphere has clearly changed as compared to last year, and lawmakers feel more free to say what they think about Ventura. When Senator Novak was asked whether the governor's honeymoon period was over, Novak challenged the premise of the question.
Novak: I never knew that we got married.
For now, Ventura says he will stick with Minn as far as the process takes them, presumably, through a vote from the full Senate. Never in recent memory has the Minnesota Senate voted to reject a governor's appointee to a cabinet-level post.