The Republican-controlled Senate voted to remove Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley Friday before the one-day special session concluded.
The Senate also voted to remove Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink last month, making Kelley the second member of Walz’s cabinet to be removed from office. Leppink’s removal marked the first time in 12 years that the Senate has used its confirmation powers to remove a cabinet member.
The motion to confirm Kelley was rejected in a vote of 31-33, with Democratic Sens. Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni joining Republicans in voting against the motion. Republican Sen. David Senjem voted in favor of Kelley’s confirmation.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he opposed Kelley’s confirmation because of the Department of Commerce’s recent appeal of the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project.
“Senate Republicans are playing politics with Minnesotans’ health and safety by voting out two talented public servants. Commissioner Nancy Leppink and Commissioner Steve Kelley have helped Minnesotans across the state navigate this public health emergency,” the Senate DFL Caucus said in a statement after the vote.
Lawmakers were called back to St. Paul Friday for the fourth special session of the year, which allowed Gov. Tim Walz to extend his COVID-19 peacetime emergency for another 30 days. Many have speculated that the Senate will continue to remove Walz’s cabinet members until he relinquishes his emergency powers.
“Gov. Walz and his administration are trying to combat a global pandemic and instead of working with him, Senate Republicans are actively making it harder to fight this virus,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman said in reaction to Kelley’s removal.
“It’s irresponsible for Republicans to continue to target individuals over a political disagreement with the governor,” she added.
Kelley has been on the job since January 2019.