Buzz begins over the future of state transportation commissioner

  • Article by: CURT BROWN, ROCHELLE OLSON and PAT LOPEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2007 - 6:35 AM

"I have not offered my resignation nor do I think I'm going to do that," Carol Molnau said. Some expressed a lack of confidence in her ability.

As questions mounted Monday about her political future and ability to lead the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau said she will not resign in the aftermath of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

"I have not offered my resignation nor do I think I'm going to do that," said Molnau, who serves in a unique dual role as Gov. Tim Pawlenty's second-in-command and state transportation commissioner.

Although last week's disaster occurred on her watch, Pawlenty defended her. "Yes. I think she's doing a good job," he said.

Molnau said she believes Minnesotans remain confident in MnDOT's ability to safeguard the state's bridges.

Rescue efforts, meanwhile, continued as divers from the Navy and the FBI arrived. The FBI also brought an unmanned submarine to help find at least eight bodies believed to be in the Mississippi River.

The buzz over Molnau's future began early Monday when Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said in a MPR interview that he lacked confidence in her leadership. He said MnDOT "has not had an advocate at the top."

Molnau is a longtime opponent of gas-tax increases, the proceeds of which would be dedicated to road and bridge construction and maintenance.

When asked whether he feels "confident that she can continue to do the job," Murphy answered: "No."

Murphy shouldered some responsibility himself, pointing out that he was elected to the Legislature in 1992 along with Molnau and Pawlenty.

"For the last 15 years, we've failed to make headway on transportation issues with several people being culpable, myself included," Murphy told the Star Tribune. "I just don't think that right now, while we still have folks missing, we need to go through a finger-pointing exercise. I think that would be tacky."

David Gaither, chief of staff to Pawlenty until late 2006, said he fears Molnau could become a distraction as the transportation funding debate heads for a possible special session where legislators could enact the first gas-tax increase since 1988.

Pawlenty has been loyal to commissioners in troubled times, most recently Health Commissioner Diane Mandernach, who suppressed information about cancer deaths related to taconite mining.

Gaither said in an interview that Molnau stepping aside "might be the right and most noble thing to do. The public has to come away with trust the government has their safety first and foremost, and when in doubt, you must err on the side of caution."

Asked Monday whether he still had confidence in Molnau as transportation commissioner, Pawlenty said anyone who would jump to the conclusion that Molnau's job is at risk "should be cautious."

'Tension ... is palpable'

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute, said Molnau will have difficulty hanging on to her post.

"The tension between her and the Legislature is palpable," he said.

If she is found to have been involved in decisions regarding the bridge, he said, "that would be the death warrant of her commissionership."

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