Senate confirms a batch of commissioners

The Minnesota Senate quickly confirmed five of Gov. Dayton’s political appointees today.

Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius all received the Senate’s blessing to continue in their jobs.

The debate over the confirmations took less than two hours. Four of the five appointees were confirmed by voice vote. Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius’ confirmation was approved 45-20. Republicans criticized Cassellius’ work on redesigning the state’s social studies standards.

Republicans also raised questions about Zelle.

Several Republicans wondered how Zelle, who took office three weeks ago, would avoid a potential conflict of interest, since he is the owner of Jefferson Bus Lines. Some said they support Zelle’s confirmation but worried that MnDOT oversees and distributes federal grants for intercity bus lines.

“Clearly, as the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, he will have the ultimate signoff and ultimate responsibility for distributing these grants, and it very well may be to the company that he is majority owner of,” Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, said.

Jefferson Bus Lines has received such grants in the past.

DFL lawmakers say they’ve been assured that Zelle will separate himself from decisions regarding the federal grants.

“There’s not a conflict of interest until there’s a conflict of interest,” said Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul. “Commissioner Zelle has made it very clear that he’s going to remove himself from decisions regarding Jefferson Lines.”

We have asked for documents that outline how Zelle intends to avoid making decisions regarding Jefferson Lines. We’ll post the info once it becomes available.

Update: Zelle filed a conflict of interest statement that says he will recuse himself from any transportation decisions or contracts involving his company.

Zelle Conflict of Interest form by