llen Anderson has been described as passionate about renewable energy, one who worked well on either side of the political aisle - in other words, impartial.
As proof that there is no such thing as total job security, Anderson lost her position as chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission this week when Republicans in the Senate voted to essentially fire her, reportedly because of her stance on "traditional" energy sources like coal and nuclear. The GOP also said that Anderson's strong environmentalist background prevented her from doing her job fairly.
Wait. Don't we want an environmentalist-type in this position? Are we not "going green" any longer? Shouldn't we continue to pursue alternative energy sources as ardently as we can?
Renewable energy is a big deal. More specifically, wind power is a big deal and means a lot to people, especially in southwest Minnesota, known as a national leader in wind energy.
Anderson sat on and/or chaired Senate committees with oversight over energy and telecommunications policy, regulation, and finance for the full 18 plus years she served in the Senate. Fresh Energy, a non-partisan group geared toward advancing clean energy and transportation, called Anderson's tenure as head of the PUC a "model of collegiality and bipartisanship."
Anderson, a Democrat, carried and passed a number of bills under former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's watch. She was the force behind the 2007 passage of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Standard that required all utilities to have 25 percent renewable energy (wind, solar, and small hydro) by 2025 (30 percent from Xcel Energy by 2020). This law creates a competitive open market for renewable energy sources. The bill passed 63-3, and supporters of the legislation included current Republican members of the Senate.
Even Republican Sen. Julianne Ortman called Anderson a "passionate advocate."
Doesn't make any sense.
So why did Anderson, a champion of renewable energy, lose her job at the hands of the Senate? Is it because she's a Democrat? If so, that shouldn't sit well with any of us. Although Republicans have a 3-2 majority on the Commission, the PUC is a regulating body and should be void of politics - it was during Anderson's 10 months as its leader. Is this the Republicans getting back at the DFLers for denying the confirmation of then-Transportation Secretary Carol Molnau during the Pawlenty Administration?
We don't know. Might never know. We do know this though: of 221 votes Anderson took on the PUC, 204 were unanimous, and she was in the minority just six times.
District 21 Republican Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls voted not to confirm Anderson for philosophical reasons and said the issue has been blown out of proportion.
"It was known last spring that we would not confirm Anderson; I wasn't there two years ago, I have no clue how confirmations work and I don't need to know," he said. "I voted not to confirm her because I don't believe she is the best person for that position. I'm not saying she is not educated on energy, but her philosophy and my philosophy are different. I don't feel she is the person we would want."
But some have argued that Anderson's ouster is another case of divided government in Minnesota; Lord knows we're used to that around here. Or worse, it was political revenge. I would love to say there's no way our elected officials would stoop to oust someone in the name of retribution, but I also can't put it past them. Not totally, at least.
Former state Rep. Marty Seifert said although it's uncommon for appointments for commissioners to be turned down, he doesn't believe Anderson's is a case of political payback. "I would sure hope things haven't denigrated to the point of retribution," he said. "I don't think they operate that way. I would sure hope they wouldn't."
The problem with confirmations, Seifert said, is they're looked at through a subjective eye in most cases, and a person's resume and qualifications can sometimes get lost on their peers.
"The Senate isn't a rubber stamp," Seifert said, noting that both Pawlenty and Jesse Ventura before him had multiple confirmations denied. "The problem a lot of people have is these decisions are not objective. I think a lot of the Republican senators felt she was probably too far to the left to be in the mainstream of what's going on."
For whatever reason Anderson was bumped, there's a chance politics played a part. And that shouldn't surprise anyone.