Senate GOP should vet Dayton appointments the old fashioned way: on their merits

In Minnesota, as in Washington, the Senate has the duty to confirm appointments made by the executive branch. But unlike Washington, D.C., Minnesota’s confirmation process used to be about the resume and qualifications of the nominee at the beginning of their term.

Used to be? Until 2004, that is, when Steve Kelly, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee used the confirmation process to conduct a two-year job review of Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke because he disagreed with the policies she was successfully promoting on behalf of Governor Tim Pawlenty. 

No one with a straight face could argue Yecke was not qualified to be commissioner. A native Minnesotan, she was a former teacher with classroom experience. She had a Ph.D. in education policy. She had already served as commissioner of education in another state and was a high ranking official at the federal Department of Education. Minnesota had never seen anyone more qualified to run the state education department.

But her confirmation was not about her qualifications. Kelly didn’t even bring up her confirmation until halfway through Pawlenty’s first term in office. He then held two hearings spanning six hours of testimony about the Pawlenty education agenda and her part in getting it accomplished. The hearings turned into a "witch hunt" lead by Kelly.

The DFL-controlled Senate denied her confirmation at 3:00 in the morning on the last day of the legislative session, while the public was sleeping.

Governor-elect Dayton won the election, and he deserves to appoint a commissioner of education who shares his values, but former Senator Kelly’s conduct must not be rewarded with a Senate confirmation of his own. Republican Senators like David Hann, Gen Olson, and Geoff Michel who had front-row seats to the unfair scrutiny applied to Yecke should send a signal now to the Dayton administration that a Kelly nomination would be dead on arrival.