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Unable to stop his COVID-19 emergency, Senate GOP ousts commissioner appointed by Walz

The state's Labor and Industry Commissioner is out of a job.

Senate Republicans ousted the state's Labor and Industry Commissioner in a rebuke to Gov. Tim Walz just hours after failing to overturn his peacetime emergency.

Nancy Leppink was appointed the DLI commissioner by Walz shortly after he took office in 2019, but the Senate had yet to officially confirm her position.

Taking Democrats by surprise Wednesday afternoon, the GOP-controlled Senate held Leppink's confirmation hearing, and voted 34-32 not to confirm her, meaning she's out of a job.

Senate GOP leader Paul Gazelka said he had been dissatisfied with Leppink's performance for many months, and said he had told Gov. Walz in February that she was "not working out," listing a series of complaints about her during Wednesday's Special Session.

But the move sparked fury from Democrats who accused of obstructing the state's response to COVID-19, of which Leppink's department has played a vital role in preparing businesses for the many changes that have resulted from the pandemic.

DFL Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent accused Gazelka of setting an "ambush" by not giving advance notice of the confirmation hearing, and said the timing of it was "cruel and incredibly irresponsible during a public health crisis."

Others unhappy by the decision is Education Commissioner Mary Ricker, who praised Leppink's work on the state's efforts to reopen schools amid the pandemic.

Gov. Walz was also taken aback, saying Leppink was "caught in the middle of a petty political move" that he claims "puts Minnesotans in danger," and went on to accuse the GOP of not taking COVID-19 seriously.

Walz had earlier extended the state's COVID-19 peacetime emergency by 30 days, with the virus still prevalent in the state. The Senate voted to end the emergency, but the measure would not get past the DFL-controlled House.

Republicans in the Legislature have become increasingly unhappy with Gov. Walz's emergency powers, saying the state's response to COVID-19 should go through the Legislature, but Walz says it is still required so that the state can react quickly, access federal emergency funding, and provide protection to those vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.

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