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May 17, 2004
Minnesota Senate Sneaks Out After Partisan Cheap Shot

The Minnesota Senate closed its session early Sunday morning on a legally mandated schedule, but snuck in a final cheap partisan shot by firing Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke. Yecke's sin was not malfeasance nor gross incompetence, but her pledge to enact Governor Tim Pawlenty's policies for education -- the same policies that won him the election in 2002:

When the smoke cleared from the education wars at the Capitol early Sunday, Minnesota had one fewer commissioner but a brand new set of requirements for social studies and science. Cheri Pierson Yecke was fired by the Senate on a 35 to 31 vote at 3:40 a.m. that followed strict party lines, after a day virtually devoid of any education action. ...

Yecke's firing was effective immediately, without so much as a two weeks' notice. Yecke, who hosted reporters at a Sunday afternoon news conference in her Blaine home, said she was already canceling appointments or parceling them out among staff members. She began by citing her accomplishments over the 15 months she served as commissioner and said she was "shocked" at the vote totals and felt betrayed by legislators who said they would vote for her, then flipped to the other side. As for the future, Yecke said she is polishing up her job search skills.

"I asked the governor this morning, I said something I do need from you, governor, is a letter of recommendation for my next job. I have my Rolodex, I have my rsum and so I'll be shopping my rsum around starting next week."

Although both Pawlenty and Yecke had thought they'd lined up enough DFL votes to keep the Senate from removing her, several DFL Senators changed their minds in the wee hours of Sunday morning. In fact, they didn't change their vote because they felt Yecke was intolerable as a commissioner -- they voted her out because they wanted to pull off a despicable power play:

Indeed, even DFLers weren't sure they had the votes to dump Yecke until after midnight, said Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins. But in numerous caucuses in which the DFLers privately discussed their positions on the issues, Yecke critics hammered away at what they felt was the commissioner's bad effect on Minnesota schools and education.

Plus, DFLers were irked at what they considered to be continuing efforts to divide them over the gay-marriage issue. In the end, Kelley said, DFLers rejected Yecke not only because they thought she was bad for schools, but because they also wanted to show a united front.

Executives in Minnesota, just as at the national level, nominate people to fill Cabinet-level roles for state agencies. The state Senate has the duty to hold hearings and confirm them. Normally, this takes place expeditiously, but in Yecke's case, the nomination dragged on for almost 18 months. Only recently, when the legislature considered new educational standards, did the Senate exhibit any urgency in consideration of Yecke, and only because she supported both the No Child Left Behind Act and objective educational standards and testing -- both policies that Pawlenty included in his election platform.

Unable to completely control education policy for the first time in decades, since the Republicans control the House and the executive, the Senate essentially had a temper tantrum and torpedoed Yecke despite the absence of any malfeasance or evidence of incompetence. They used her as a straw-man for Pawlenty's policies, a corruption of the advise-and-consent role envisaged for the Senate. Whether you like Yecke or Pawlenty has become a secondary consideration now. The Senate has established a precedent for usurpation of the executive's privilege of nominating people that intend on implementing his policies, a precedent that they will live to rue, I'm sure, as soon as the situation is reversed.

Besides, what happens now is that Pawlenty will nominate a new Education Commissioner, but still one who will implement Pawlenty's policies. The Senate's action is, in the final analysis, an empty and bitter gesture. If the Senate doesn't care for the administration's policies, then let the DFL win the gubernatorial election and quit playing childish partisan games that only introduces delay and extra cost into an educational system that can afford neither.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 17, 2004 1:05 PM

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Tracked on May 17, 2004 11:51 PM

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