Dayton's cabinet heavy on experience, light on politicsby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton is poised to fill the final three spots in his cabinet.
The Democratic governor still needs commissioners for the Departments of Administration and Human Rights, as well as the Bureau of Mediation Services.
So far, Dayton has assembled a cabinet with with heavy private administrative experience and little political background. Capitol observers say that combination will serve him well.
Most of Dayton's commissioners have had to hit the ground running, tackling Medicaid expansion, environmental permitting improvements, stadium issues and a forthcoming budget proposal. With the cabinet roster of two dozen nearly complete, Dayton said this week that he's assembled a terrific group.
"I have experienced, seasoned people who have real expertise in their areas of responsibility, and also proven management capabilities so that they will be able to deliver on my commitment to make state government better and work more efficiently, cost effectively, for the people of the state," he said.
Business groups spent millions to try to defeat Dayton in the November election. Now, they're trying to work with the new DFL governor, and even provided him advice on possible cabinet appointments.
Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, said he appreciated Dayton's outreach. Weaver, who held top posts in the Jesse Ventura and Tim Pawlenty administrations, said Dayton's commissioners are largely unknown but very competent.
"They reflect that he's serious about reform, that he is thoughtful in his approach, that he is sensitive to the constituencies of the various agencies," he said. "Overall, my sense is that he hired people and he expects them to get the job done and he's going to drive them for results."
Organized labor leaders were big Dayton backers in the election, and they too appear pleased with his cabinet. Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, said he thinks Dayton has shown himself to be a principled pragmatist by surrounding himself with commissioners he views as smart professionals.
"I think you'd have to say there are no political paybacks. These are not patronage positions," he said. "These are people who believe in the mission of agency, who are professionals in their field and who also believe they can work with front line workers to produce the best possible results."
Dayton's emphasis on experienced professionals is similar to the approach taken by Gov. Ventura.
John Wodele, who served as Ventura's press secretary, agrees. He said both governors were free of political baggage or IOUs.
But with the state facing a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit, Wodele said there's a practical reason to hire experienced private sector managers as commissioners.
"I have a hunch that he concentrated more on appointing people that are good administrators that can work in an environment where they're going to have to do more with less," Wodele said. "They're going to have to cut, and they're going to have to be more efficient. And it appears to me that he has chosen well."
Dayton has won a lot of praise for his picks, but he's also received some criticism. Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, the chair of the Senate tax committee, took issue with the appointment of Myron Frans to head the Department of Revenue.
Ortman doesn't question Frans' qualifications. She's just concerned that he won't be able to start the job until mid-April due to business commitments.
"Well, I think it leaves a gap in the negotiations. The chair and the committees often work with the commissioner directly, then the commissioner works with the governor," she said. "So, we're missing that very important go between who can negotiate some of the differences, can bring back some of the disagreements and work through maybe some compromises and work through some solutions.
"We're in a place where we need some solution seekers."
Ortman and the rest of the Republican-controlled Senate will have the final say on Dayton's appointments.
Each commissioner will eventually face a confirmation vote, but not necessarily this year.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, declined to comment on Dayton's appointments, but she said committee discussions on some of his commissioners could begin soon.
- Morning Edition, 02/04/2011, 8:25 a.m.