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Two Strikes Against Ventura Nominee
by Laura McCallum
February 15, 2000
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Governor Ventura's commerce commissioner appointee suffered another setback Tuesday. The Senate Commerce Committee became the second Senate panel to vote against confirming Steve Minn as head of a newly-merged Commerce and Public Service Department.

A SOMBER STEVE MINN came before the Commerce Committee to try to save the job he has performed since Ventura appointed him public service commissioner a year ago. He said the 18-1 vote against him in the Senate Jobs, Energy and Community Development Committee was a humbling experience, and the Ventura administration got the message. Minn apologized for the way the Governor merged both agencies through executive order when former Commerce Commissioner David Jennings resigned in August. Minn says the administration learned its lesson; it should have sought legislative approval.
Minn: I make no excuses, I accept responsibility for inadequate consultation, and I simply offer as an explanation that the circumstances had changed and the governor exercised what he believed was his prerogative. It was not the governor's prerogative nor was it my intention that we were to be insulting to or in any way lacking respect for the Senate.
Minn argued that regardless of how the merger was handled, it is reducing the size of state government as the public has demanded. He says the new agency, with 380 employees, is saving money, and the industries it regulates support the change.

But Minn's attempt to get those industries to tout the merger got him in hot water, when he asked two top utility executives to contact DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe. DFL Senator Steve Novak of New Brighton, Minn's most vocal opponent, says he doesn't trust Minn.
Novak: I think it's very clear that Mr. Minn broke his word to a number of Senators; a variety of ethical procedures were violated, specifically during the course of the hearing; attempts to influence corporate executives who have major multi-million dollar, even multi-billion dollar issues to be decided before his department.
Novak and other Minn detractors have cited his arrogance and poor relationship with some legislators, and even one of the four Senators who voted for his confirmation, DFLer Allen Spear of Minneapolis, admitted Minn can be strident and step on people's toes. But Spear says he's reluctant to reject a gubernatorial appointee who's obviously qualified.
Spear: I cannot vote against somebody who I think is able to do the job, has the high energy level, has already shown in what he's done since he's served as commissioner, that he can get things done. And so I think on balance, I'm going to give the competency factors precedence over some of the personal inter-relationship problems that Mr. Minn has.
Spear was in the minority; 11 committee members voted to reject Minn's confirmation. Republican Senator Bill Belanger of Bloomington says Minn has no credibility with him, because Minn lied to him. Belanger says he met with Minn prior to the merger, and told Minn he would oppose both the merger and his confirmation. Minn made a comment as he walked out the door, which the two recalled quite differently.
Minn: My response to you when you articulated to me that you were upset with my performance and I attempted to elicit specifics, I said the executive branch has its prerogatives to make the appointments and its mergers, and the Legislature has its prerogative to do what you're going to do. And I guess that's how we were going to leave it.
Belanger: Mr. Minn, that's not what you said as you walked out the door. You said the administration is not without weapons.
But the administration may be running out of weapons. The confirmation now goes to the full Senate, where observers think it's in trouble. The governor wouldn't comment on the latest Minn defeat, but his spokesman, John Wodele, says Ventura is not backing down from his appointee, and will continue to pursue his confirmation. Wodele says the governor believes the Senate committee votes are political, and not based on Minn's qualifications.