Minnesota Senate: Cassellius’ appointment as education commissioner survives GOP challenge

/ 7 February 2013 / eunice

Bill Salisbury, Pioneer Press, February 7, 2013 – Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius has survived a Republican challenge to keep her post in Gov. Mark Dayton’s cabinet.

The Senate on Thursday, Feb. 7, voted 45-20 to confirm Cassellius’ appointment, but only after GOP senators failed in an attempt to delay the vote.

Senators also confirmed four other commissioners — Charlie Zelle at the Transportation Department, Lucinda Jesson at Human Services, Edward Ehlinger at Health and Myron Frans at Revenue — on voice votes with no audible opposition.

But Republican senators argued Cassellius’ confirmation should be put on hold until an administrative law judge rules on whether she exceeded her authority by proposing changes in state social studies standards without legislative approval.

GOP lawmakers have complained that American history standards proposed by an Education Department panel last year focus more on what the country has done wrong regarding slavery and the treatment of Native Americans than on what the U.S. has done well. Administrative Law Judge Barbara Nielson is expected to decide later this month whether the new standards can go into effect as they are written.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said Republicans don’t question Cassellius’ qualifications or competence, but they wanted to postpone a vote until the ruling shows whether the commissioner overstepped her legal power in the rule-making process.

“Let’s see what the judge says,” he said.

But Senate Education Committee Chair Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said Cassellius has demonstrated in two years on the job that she’s “an outstanding supervisor and administrator,” and her appointment shouldn’t be derailed by a dispute over a rule-making process. She offered to hold committee hearings on the standards in dispute.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said delaying Cassellius’ confirmation “would be a real slap in the face of someone who I think is really working to try to help move Minnesota forward in our education system.”

The Senate has now confirmed seven of Dayton’s 16 department heads. Most of them have held their posts for a year or two, but the previous Republican Senate majority never confirmed the appointments.

With the DFL governor’s fellow Democrats controlling the Senate this year, most appointments have sailed through with little opposition.