Two political appointees of Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday survived confirmation votes in the Minnesota Senate, despite objections by Republican legislators.
The DFL-led Senate voted 35 to 22 to confirm Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, first appointed to the post in 2011. State senators voted 38 to 22 to confirm Adam Duininck as chairman of the Metropolitan Council. He has served on the 17-member Met Council since 2011 and was appointed by Dayton as chair in January.
Rothman drew particular fire from Republican senators, who singled him out for the Commerce Department’s response to allegations of overspending by a Minneapolis nonprofit charged with helping low-income residents. He also faced criticism over how the Commerce Department reported rate increases in MNsure, the state’s health care insurance exchange.
“His fingerprints are all over MNsure,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who opposed Rothman’s confirmation. While Gazelka praised some changes made during Rothman’s tenure, such as beefing up the department’s anti-fraud efforts, Gazelka said Rothman has “made a couple of major missteps.”
Gazelka and other Republicans blamed Rothman for the exit of PreferredOne from MNsure, after the Star Tribune reported last fall that the Commerce Department in 2013 asked the Golden Valley insurer to consider lowering its initially proposed rates. They also criticized the choice by the agency to report 2015 rate increases as a straight average of rates from the returning insurers, even though PreferredOne accounted for nearly 60 percent of MNsure enrollees when it departed from the state exchange.
“That is absolutely misleading,” said Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge.
The Commerce Department has steadfastly defended its handling of Community Action of Minneapolis, the shuttered nonprofit that state officials said had misspent $800,000 in taxpayer dollars. Rothman said late last year that the department immediately imposed corrective action in 2012 when it learned Community Action had doled out excess state dollars for its energy-assistance program.
Rothman last year also defended the reporting of an average 4.5 percent hike in MNsure premiums. Some experts said a weighted average would be more accurate because it would take into account the percentage distribution of enrollees across the returning insurance carriers, whose rates vary. Calculated that way, the increase in MNsure premiums for 2015 is not 4.5 percent, but 11.8 percent.
Debate over Duininck’s confirmation included accusations of cronyism by Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, because Duininck is married to Dayton’s chief of staff.
Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, rejected those accusations.
“I find it a little offensive when someone is objected to … because of their spouse,” she said. “It’s not unusual that two people dedicated to public service would end up together.”
The Met Council, which oversees the strategic growth of the seven-county metro area, including its parks, wastewater system, housing and public transportation network, has faced calls over the years to change how board members are selected. Members are currently appointed by the governor, but at least four bills pending in the Legislature seek to change that.
Photos at top: At top, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman in 2013. Below, Adam Duininck testified at his confirmation hearing this month. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune)