HASTINGS – Gov.-elect Tim Walz named seven more commissioners Thursday, continuing to call on mostly new faces as he rounds out his cabinet in advance of Monday’s inauguration.
Among the cabinet choices was state Sen. Tony Lourey to be commissioner of the Department of Human Services, which means voters in his northern Minnesota district will face a special election to replace him.
Thus far his choices have come from the ranks of the private sector, labor unions, trade associations, nonprofits and government agencies. He passed over two of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioners who tried to keep their current jobs, giving his cabinet a fresh look that breaks more clearly from the previous administration.
“Each and every one of these folks believes in ‘one Minnesota,’ ” Walz said, repeating a campaign mantra. “It’s how we will govern. By bridging gaps between urban and suburban and rural communities.”
The Walz transition team has kept the selections closely held and highly choreographed. The incoming governor revealed his new cabinet members at a dairy farm in Hastings wearing what has become his trademark black-and-red flannel.
The challenges of governing state government with its 35,000 employees and sharp regional divides will come into clear view in the coming months. Walz must submit a two-year budget proposal expected to top $45 billion by Feb. 19, with a slew of interest groups clamoring for more money, from cities and townships to powerful labor unions like Education Minnesota and other public employees.
Walz named Thom Petersen, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Farmers Union, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture.
“Thom Petersen understands how policy directly affects farmers’ daily lives,” Walz said, adding that his new top agriculture official will “ensure our farmers can compete in the global marketplace.”
Petersen, who is married to Sen. Tina Smith’s state director Alana Petersen, is well known to farmers and legislators alike.
State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said he looked forward to “continuing our work together.”
Sarah Strommen, an assistant commissioner at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is the first woman appointed to lead the agency.
“Minnesota has a strong outdoor legacy, and I am excited to work collaboratively with staff, stakeholders, and everyday Minnesotans to enhance our diverse and first-rate outdoor experiences for all,” she said.
She has ties to the state’s influential environmental movement, including the Minnesota Land Trust and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Asked what she thought of a controversial proposal by Twin Metals to build an ore processing plant on the banks of Birch Lake, Strommen said the regulatory process would be guided by scientific evidence and said she has no opinion of the project.
Strommen will replace Tom Landwehr, who was appointed in 2011 to oversee the agency of 2,700 employees.
Laura Bishop, chief sustainability officer for Best Buy, was named commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Before Best Buy, Bishop spent most of her career in the public sector, including stints in both state and federal government.
Walz has asked Jan Malcolm, the commissioner of the Department of Health, to stay on. Walz will be the third governor for whom she has served, following stints for Govs. Dayton and Jesse Ventura.
Janet Johnson, a career employee of the Bureau of Mediation Services, will be the agency’s first woman commissioner.
Walz named Rebecca Lucero the commissioner of the Department of Human Rights. She is public policy director at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and has served in numerous capacities for various progressive and nonprofit groups. She will replace Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay, who applied to keep his job.
“With Minnesota facing some of the worst racial disparities in the country and as reports of hate crimes and discrimination continue to rise, the Department of Human Rights must be a catalyst for transformational change,” Lucero said.
Commissioners make between $140,000 and $155,000 annually.
Walz is expected to name more cabinet picks Friday.
The selection of Lourey creates a fresh dilemma for Senate Democrats.
Lourey, of Kerrick, represents a district won by President Donald Trump in the closely divided upper chamber. Dayton announced a special election Feb. 5. With Lourey leaving the state Senate, Republicans currently control the chamber 34-32.
Lourey’s son Stu Lourey announced his candidacy hours after his father was named a commissioner. Stu Lourey, an aide to Smith and former U.S. Sen. Al Franken, would be the third Lourey to represent the district in St. Paul, after his father, Tony, and grandmother Becky.
Michelle Lee, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the Eighth Congressional District, is also considered a potential candidate.