'We all need a timeout:' Senate goes home without confirming more Walz commissioners

The Minnesota Senate ended the special session Wednesday without confirming any more of Gov. Tim Walz's commissioners, bringing a sudden end to 18 straight months of legislating and heated political rhetoric at the state Capitol.

Democrats moved to adjourn the session amid frustrations over the Republican-led Senate's treatment of former Pollution Control Commissioner Laura Bishop, who resigned Tuesday rather than be fired by the Senate.

Republicans initially had planned to take votes on two other commissioners, Jennifer Ho of Housing Finance and Sarah Strommen of Natural Resources. But after a lengthy debate over Bishop's resignation, the Senate voted 46-18 to adjourn without any more confirmations.

"Like a lot of 3 year olds, we all need a timeout," said state Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.

Bishop resigned when she said Senate Republicans told Walz that they would remove her. She had been implementing tougher vehicle emissions standards that Republicans oppose. GOP members also accused her of showing up unannounced at their offices and demanding meetings.

Controversy erupted Wednesday morning over the comments of a Republican senator who gloated about Bishop's resignation on talk radio.

"Laura Bishop has, how do you say, she’s put her own head into a noose and jumped," state Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, said on KNSI/1450 AM. "She was a terrible commissioner – absolutely terrible commissioner, particularly with that 'clean cars' junk she was trying to ram through."

Democrats distributed Osmek's quote in the Senate chamber Wednesday morning, leading Senate Majority Leader to distance himself from Osmek's comments.

"I do not support the comments of Sen. Osmek related to the commissioner of the MPCA," Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told reporters.

Gazelka said Republicans would have voted to confirm the DNR's Strommen but had decided to take no action on Ho's appointment, leaving her in limbo until a future special session. The Senate has left all but four of Walz's cabinet members unconfirmed.

Senate Republicans removed Labor Commissioner Nancy Leppink and Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley in separate votes last summer.

"Our goal isn’t to remove commissioners. Our goal is for commissioners to work with us," Gazelka said.

Uncertainty remains for several other Walz appointees.

Gazelka ruled out removing Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm because he said there wasn't enough support in the Republican caucus for such a move. The GOP base has been pushing for months for Malcolm's removal, upset over the public health measures like a mask mandate and business closures she advocated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Democrats compared the process to a sword over the heads of Walz appointees since the governor took office in 2019.

"It is the continued implied threat that if a commissioner does something that they don’t like, then they can be removed at any minute," Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, told reporters. "I don’t think that is helpful for the state of Minnesota."