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GOP senators cite 'clean cars junk,' manure rules in targeting of former MPCA commissioner Laura Bishop

"I guess she saved us some time," Sen. David Osmek said of her resignation.

Comments from two prominent Republican state senators are providing more insight into their targeting of Laura Bishop, the now-former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) commissioner who resigned ahead of a confirmation hearing that likely would have resulted in her immediate removal.

"I want to say, there was a number of issues that just kept bubbling up, and it was more political than anything," said Senator Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, of Bishop, in a Facebook video following her Tuesday resignation, "and so we just felt like we had to address it,"

Gazelka and the Senate extended their special session work, with plans to hold committee confirmation hearings (and later, full confirmation votes) on a handful of commissioners and appointees selected by DFL Gov. Tim Walz. But prior to Bishop's scheduled hearing, she resigned, with the governor's office saying Gazelka indicated to them she would not be confirmed in a Senate vote.

If the Senate voted not to confirm her, Bishop — who had served more than two years as MPCA commissioner, without the state Senate opting to hold a confirmation hearing — would have immediately been removed from the job.

Gazelka, in the Facebook video, says Bishop was "jamming" policies through rather than going through the legislative process. He highlighted three specific issues he had with her decisions:

Meanwhile, Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, appeared on Ox in the Afternoon on KNSI, to discuss Bishop's resignation and the Senate's continued look at Walz's commissioners and appointees. 

"She was a horri - terrible commissioner. Absolutely terrible commissioner, particularly with that clean cars junk she was trying to ram through," Osmek told host Dan Ochsner. He later noted it wasn't only about the vehicle standards but "also how she's been treating legislators and acting as a commissioner," though he did not provide any specifics.

Osmek said that, while he was likely going to vote no on her confirmation, her fate wasn't sealed. 

"I guess she saved us some time," he said of her resignation.

The senator also hinted at the ongoing political strife between Walz and Republican legislators, particularly over his use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 7,615 people in Minnesota.

"And if the governor wasn't so bent on keeping his powers, you would never be in special session in the first place and [commissioner confirmation hearings] wouldn't be happening. Serves him right," Ochsner said to Osmek.

"You're correct," the senator replied.

Bishop: 'I do not work for Paul Gazelka's policies'

Bishop has offered some comments of her own.

In speaking with MPR (here and here), the former commissioner described what she called "political intimidation" from Gazelka.

"I work for the governor. I do not work for Paul Gazelka's policies," she said, noting the MPCA, under her watch, began moving in a positive direction with regards to addressing climate change and clean transportation options. 

"Unfortunately the Senate GOP would not have, in any of their bills when we negotiated in session, they would not allow for the words "climate change." They would not allow for the words "environmental justice." And they would not allow for the word equity," she said.

Bishop has also tweeted, and even mentioned GOP Sen. Carrie Ruud directly.

Walz, in announcing Bishop's resignation Tuesday, accused Republicans of using "taxpayer dollars to play partisan games," and trying to "politicize an agency charged with protecting Minnesotans from pollution because they refuse to acknowledge the science of climate change."

Senate adjourns without any confirmation votes

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed two Walz appointees: Aaron Vande Linde for Director of the Minnesota Office of School Trust Lands, and Mark Phillips for Commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

The plan Wednesday was to hold votes on two more commissioners: Sarah Strommen at the DNR, and Jennifer Ho at the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

Instead, after a 9 a.m. start time, the Senate voted 46-18 to adjourn the special session without taking any more confirmation votes. Gazelka was among the yea votes, while Osmek voted against adjournment.

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