Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order for the National Guard to assist stranded motorists in southwestern Minnesota and made numerous appointments, including cabinet appointments.
On Dec. 19, Walz announced the appointment of Katie Sieben to serve as a commissioner and chair of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Governor Mark Dayton appointed Sieben to the PUC in 2017 and Walz appointed her as chair in 2019.
On Dec. 21, the Walz administration announced six new members of the Walz-Flanagan Cabinet.
Wille Jett II as commissioner of education. Jett is an instructor in the education administration licensure program in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development at the University of Minnesota. He has taught and led in urban, suburban and greater Minnesota school districts for over three decades. Jett understands the challenges and strengths of all communities. His career is characterized by a commitment to raising student achievement and closing opportunity gaps. He is committed to preparing our future citizens, growing Minnesota’s workforce and supporting professional educators. Jett earned his B.S. from University of Illinois at Chicago and M.A. from University of Pittsburgh.
Brooke Cunningham as commissioner of health. Cunningham is the assistant commissioner of the Health Equity Bureau at the Minnesota Department of Health. She identifies strategies to advance health equity and oversees the Center for Health Equity, the Office of American Indian Health, the COVID-19 Health Equity Team and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office. Previously, as an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School, Cunningham’s teaching and scholarship broadly focused on race and medicine, including the use of race in medical decision-making, physicians’ preparation to address patients’ experiences of racism as part of routine clinical care and provider and organizational factors associated with the uptake and integration of health equity into health care delivery. She provides primary care at the Community-University Health Care Clinic. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Cunningham majored in history and African-American studies at the University of Virginia; received her doctorates in medicine and sociology from the University of Pennsylvania; trained in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center; and completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Medical Research Institute (AcademyHealth).
Ida Rukavina as commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. Rukavina was born and raised on the Iron Range. She is the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools. Rukavina has primarily worked in government and the labor movement, representing public and private employees in northern Minnesota and working with government at the state, local and federal levels. She earned her B.A. from Clark University and her M.A.P.L. from the University of Minnesota – Duluth.
Nicole Blissenbach as commissioner of labor and industry. Blissenbach joined the department in June 2019 and has served as temporary commissioner since August 2022. She previously served as deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner for enforcement and compliance strategies and partnerships. Before starting in the department, she worked at Education Minnesota, where she served for nearly 10 years as an attorney in the legal department. Prior to that, Blissenbach worked in a private law firm, where she practiced labor and employment law. She is a Minnesota State Bar Association Certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist. Blissenbach earned her B.A. from the University of Minnesota – Morris and her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.
Bob Jacobson as commissioner of public safety. Jacobson is the interim deputy assistant commissioner in the Department of Human Services. Previously, Jaconson served for more than 33 years in active law enforcement including 16 years as the director of public safety/chief of police for the City of New Brighton where he led their police, fire and emergency management operations. He also served as interim police chief for the city of Stillwater during a leadership transition. Jacobson also served as the interim inspector general for the Department of Human Services. He served as the professional development director for the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, coordinating and implementing statewide and regional training and conferences for the Association. Jacobson has a B.A. from Bethel University in Organizational Leadership and attended the Senior Management Institute for Police conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum.
Paul Marquart as commissioner of revenue. Marquart served as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives where he served 18 years on the House Taxes Committee, including four years as the committee’s chairperson. He was also chairperson of the House Education Finance Committee (2013-2014) and the Property Tax Division (2007-2010). Marquart served as the Mayor of Dilworth (1990-2000) and as a Dilworth City Council member (1988-1989). He currently teaches social studies at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School where he has taught for 39 years and coached wrestling for 16 years. Marquart earned an A.S. from North Dakota State School of Science, a B.A. and B.S. Ed. from the University of North Dakota and a M.S. in Educational Administration from Tri-College University.
On Dec. 22, Walz authorized emergency assistance for St. Louis County for damage sustained due to a severe storm and wind on November 10, 2022.
“It is crucial that we support counties impacted by storms and extreme weather especially as we enter this season with increased chances for severe weather,” said Walz. “We are working with local officials to help St. Louis County recover from this storm and stand ready to support all Minnesotans in future extreme weather events.”
On Dec. 23, Walz issued Executive Order 22-33 declaring a peacetime emergency and providing National Guard assistance to stranded motorists in southwestern Minnesota. The governor took to Twitter to urge Minnesotans to avoid travel if possible, also reminding Minnesotans of the state’s Energy Assistance Program for renters and homeowners who need energy assistance as temperatures drop.
“Minnesota and the country are experiencing extreme winter weather, dangerous temperatures and unsafe road conditions,” said Walz. “Every Minnesotan deserves a safe holiday and the guard will help stranded motorists and ensure everyone can travel safely. I am incredibly grateful that the guard has answered this call to action and I’m confident that they have the right personnel and resources for this mission.”
The powerful winter storm with heavy snowfall, strong winds and extreme cold temperatures created blizzard conditions, closing roads and threatening public safety. These dangerous conditions resulted in stranded vehicles, placing lives and property at risk. The resources of the affected local and county governments are inadequate to meet the demands caused by these severe winter weather conditions.
Walz related that the Renville County Sheriff’s Department requested the guard assistance.
Also on Dec. 23, the Commission on Judicial Selection announced that it was recommending three candidates for consideration to fill a vacancy on the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals. This vacancy occurs at the end of Chief Judge Patricia J. Milun’s term in January 2023.