ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - With six weeks before the inauguration, Governor-elect Tim Walz's advisors met for the first time Monday to begin shaping his administration.
The 29-member advisory council will help Walz choose his cabinet officials and decide what priorities should be in the state budget. The board includes representatives from small businesses, universities, unions, tribes and conservationists, though Republicans are raising concerns about the council's makeup.
Lieutenant Governor-elect Peggy Flanagan, who chairs the council, praised the group's diversity at its first meeting.
"There is a lot we can do together," Flanagan said during her opening remarks. "We believe the people who are directly affected by policy should have a seat at the table."
Before the council started discussing potential appointments inside a Capitol hearing room, staffers closed the meeting to reporters.
Eight of the 29 members on the council either donated to the Walz campaign or the organizations they represent did, according to a Fox 9 analysis of state campaign finance records. Contributions totaled $18,304.
The individual donors who now sit on the advisory council include:
• Abdirahman Kahin of the Afro Deli ($750)
• Javier Morillo of SEIU Local 26 ($700)
• Denise Specht of Education Minnesota ($500)
• Paul Austin of Conservation Minnesota ($500)
• Tony Sertich of the Northland Foundation ($500)
• Senta Leff of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless ($454)
Education Minnesota, the state teachers' union where Specht is president, donated $4,000 to the campaign. Conservative Minnesota, whose executive director is Austin, also gave $4,000. Laborers District Council, whose president, Tim Mackey, is on the advisory council, donated $3,500. And council member Shelley Buck is president of the Prairie Island Indian Community, which gave $3,500.
Past governors have utilized transition teams -- a smaller group often made up of longtime aides and advisors -- to fill out their administrations. Walz's concept of an advisory council in addition to his transition staff may be unique in Minnesota, said David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor.
Two Republican state representatives, Dan Fabian and Deb Kiel, raised concerns about the lack of representation from northwest Minnesota.
"I applaud the effort to do this, but I think to some degree it missed the mark," Fabian, the assistant GOP leader in the House, said in a telephone interview. "It’s certainly not providing the picture from my part of the state. I just don’t see it."
Flanagan addressed the council's makeup during Monday's meeting.
"We know that we’ve got people from all across the state that are here -- different communities, different perspectives," she said. "We’re just so grateful for your willingness to help us build on that vision for 'One Minnesota.'"
One ex-Republican official, former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, is on the advisory council. Durenberger, who endorsed both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for president, didn't attend the first meeting. Walz's office said he had a previously disclosed scheduling conflict.
The council is scheduled to meet again in December.