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Another Walz-appointed commissioner forced out by Senate GOP

The move came as the legislature began its fourth special session.

With the state legislature's fourth special session of 2020 getting underway, the Republican-controlled Senate has ousted another of the governor's appointees. 

On Friday, the first day of the new special session, the Senate held an official confirmation vote on Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley — who has been in his position since last year. His confirmation was ultimately voted down, meaning he'll be forced out as head of the Minnesota Commerce Department.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka says the move was a response to the agency's attempt to halt the replacement of Enbridge Energy's Line 3, an oil pipeline that runs through northern Minnesota.

The pipeline "met all the requirements of the PUC," Gazelka said in a tweet, "but rather than replace a very old pipe with a modern safe pipe, the Gov chose politics over safety."

But the vote earned fierce backlash from Democrats, who accused Gazelka of playing "petty partisan games" to hamper the Walz administration's ability to deal with the pandemic:

"Senate Republicans could‘ve used the special session to help us fight COVID-19," Walz said by tweet Friday. "Instead they chose to fight me, firing someone charged with protecting Minnesotans during this pandemic."

As the Star Tribune notes, Gazelka says the rejection of Kelley had been on his radar for some time, and that Republican lawmakers were concerned about his leadership even before the pandemic hit.

The paper also points out that the Senate's powers to deny the governor's commissioners are "rarely" used, with only two appointees being rejected between 2008 and 2019.

Kelley's ouster comes one month after the Senate removed Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink, a move that took Democrats by surprise.

Leppink's ouster came after GOP senators failed to end Walz's peacetime emergency powers, which have been the source of fierce and ongoing political strife between Walz and Republican lawmakers. 

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