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Senate Republicans reject Walz’s pick for commerce head

September 11, 2020 GMT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The GOP-controlled Minnesota Senate rejected Gov. Tim Walz’s pick for commerce commissioner on Friday, but the Democratic governor held on to the emergency powers he’s been using for six months to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate on Friday refused to confirm Steve Kelley as commerce commissioner, meaning he’s out of the post. The move comes after Kelley angered Senate Republicans over a recent decision to continue a court challenge of the Enbridge Line 3 replacement oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.

Last month, the Senate also rejected the confirmation of Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.

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Walz defended Kelley and all of his commissioners earlier Friday, telling MPR News that they do important work to fight the pandemic and shouldn’t be used as political pawns.

“They are the people that are actually implementing these proposals to get the testing out there, to keep people safe, to work with the data, to buy the masks,” Walz said.

During Friday’s special session, the Senate also voted to end the emergency powers Walz has been using since March to address the COVID-19 pandemic. But their effort failed as the Democratic-controlled House supported Walz’s decision to extend his powers.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said the governor shouldn’t be making decisions about the coronavirus response on his own. But Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said this is not a time to end the emergency.

“This is a time to speak with one voice, and stop lying to Minnesotans, whoever is still lying and saying that this virus is a hoax. It is not a hoax,” she said. “It is killing people whether they are Democrats or Republicans.”