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Minnesota Health Commissioner Malcolm, 3 others to leave Walz administration

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm was central in state efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Education Commissioner Heather Mueller and Commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Mark Phillips are also leaving the cabinet.

Jan Malcolm pioneer press.JPG
Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Department of Public Health commissioner, provides an update on the state’s response to COVID-19 during a news conference on April 20, 2020, in St. Paul. At the news conference, Gov. Tim Walz and Ecolab CEO Doug Baker discussed the role of public-private partnerships in Minnesota’s fight against COVID-19.
Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press
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ST. PAUL — Four members of Gov. Tim Walz's cabinet are departing the administration when the newly reelected governor begins his second term in 2023.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Education Commissioner Heather Mueller and Commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Mark Phillips will not seek reappointment, the Walz administration announced Wednesday. Sixteen other cabinet members will remain in their posts.

“I’m grateful to our entire cabinet for their years of service to Minnesota,” Walz said in a statement. “Together, we made historic investments in education, achieved the lowest unemployment rate of any state in history, and protected the health and safety of Minnesotans. I look forward to building the team that will help us kick off our second term.”

The Walz administration now has to fill six cabinet position vacancies, including leaders for the Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of Revenue. Labor and Industry Commissioner Roslyn Robertson retired in August and Revenue Commissioner Robert Doty left his post in September for a job with the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Malcolm was health commissioner from 1999-2003 and was appointed to the position again in 2018 by Gov. Mark Dayton. She served through Walz's first term where she was central in state efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Working with Gov. Walz and his team to help Minnesota navigate the COVID-19 pandemic was the most challenging and meaningful work I’ve done in my career, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve,” said Malcolm, who decided not to seek reappointment. “Public health at its best has the power to save lives and lift up communities, and this isn’t the work of any one person or any one organization.”

Malcolm’s role in the pandemic response made her a target of Senate Republicans opposed to lockdowns and other measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Senate Republicans threatened to remove Malcolm from her position as a negotiating tactic with Walz on issues like front-line worker pay. But now that Republicans have lost their majority in the Senate, they will not be able to threaten to remove Walz’s commissioners.

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John Harrington
Minnesota Department of Revenue

Harrington, who has led the Department of Public Safety since being appointed by Walz in 2019, is also not seeking reappointment. Harrington oversaw the department of public safety amid a national reckoning on race and policing following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020.

Mueller has headed the state’s education department since 2021 and is not seeking reappointment. Mueller was once a Mankato-area social studies teacher before joining the education department. She was serving as deputy commissioner when she was appointed to replace her predecessor in 2021.

“I am honored and humbled to have been asked to serve alongside the governor and lieutenant governor, particularly in such a tumultuous time for our public schools,” she said.

Phillips is not seeking reappointment to his position as head of the state agency that invests taconite production taxes back into Northeastern Minnesota businesses and communities. He served as Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Commissioner under Dayton and Walz.

“Whether expanding child care, increasing broadband access, improving downtowns, strengthening education, or enhancing outdoor recreation, I’m proud of the work we’ve done to make the region stronger and better positioned for the future,” Phillips said in a statement.

The Walz administration said it is accepting applications from people interested in applying for commissioner positions until Nov. 30.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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