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Democratic lawmaker quits University of Minnesota post

September 12, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Democratic legislator has resigned from a paid fellowship at the University of Minnesota amid questions over how he got the post, and the former Democratic lawmaker who hired him has been reassigned.

Rep. Jamie Long, a freshman lawmaker from Minneapolis who serves as vice chairman of an energy and climate committee, was hired in July as an “energy research project specialist” at the university’s Institute on the Environment. He resigned this week. He was hired by former state Sen. Ellen Anderson, of St. Paul. She was executive director of the institute’s Energy Transition Lab until Tuesday, when the university says she was reassigned to work on other projects, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Thursday.

The shakeup was precipitated by GOP Rep. Chris Swedzinski, of Ghent, who made a public records request into Long’s hiring. He received hundreds of pages of internal emails and documents suggesting that Anderson had Long in mind when crafting the position. For a work schedule of four days per week for seven months, Long was expected to “conduct research on Minnesota’s clean energy system” and develop a “Clean Energy Legislative Fellows Program.”

The $50,000 temporary role was set to end just after the Legislature returns to work in February, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported. Funding for the post came from an outside donor whose name was redacted from the documents.

“Rep. Long was able to write his own position description, set his own hours, and tailor his hours to ensure he was fully employed while the Legislature was out of session,” said Swedzinski, who suggested the hiring might have “run afoul of our ethics and campaign finance laws.”

Swedzinski called for an immediate investigation into whether a lobbyist or campaign contributor underwrote the job and whether the description of the role as “engaging and educating legislators and other decision makers” would amount to lobbying. He also called for House Speaker Melissa Hortman to strip Long of his positions as assistant majority leader and vice chairman of the committee until an ethics investigation is completed.

Long denied doing anything wrong and disputed the suggestion that Anderson created the job specifically for him. Anderson declined to comment.

Anderson’s supervisor is Jessica Hellmann, director of the university’s Institute on Energy, which encompasses the Energy Transition Lab. She told the Pioneer Press in a statement that Anderson was no longer the lab’s director as of Tuesday “and instead has been assigned to work on other projects.” She said state law governing personnel matters prohibited disclosing the reason for the change.

The McKnight Foundation sent an unsolicited statement to AP on Thursday saying it had given a grant to the university for a clean-energy position, but did not respond to a follow-up inquiry asking it to clarify whether it was the position Long held.

Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman said in a statement that she has requested the documents related to Long’s hiring but would “withhold further comment and action” until she reviews them.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Paul Anderson, sent a long list of questions Thursday to university President Joan Gabel about how the position was created and funded. He said the revelations raised questions about the propriety of hiring a sitting legislator to influence the actions of his colleagues at the Capitol.

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