Governor Tim Walz appoints new education, health and public safety commissioners

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz named six new state commissioners Wednesday, completing his cabinet heading into his second term.

Former St. Cloud School District Superintendent Willie Jett was named education commissioner, and Brooke Cunningham, assistant commissioner in the Health Department’s Office of Health Equity, will take over as health commissioner. Bob Jacobson, who has spent more than three decades in active law enforcement, will lead the Department of Public Safety.

In written statements, Jacobson said he will seek to “uplift and support” public safety personnel across the state; Cunningham said he will prioritize equity in the Department of Health’s science, operations and partnerships; and Jett said he’s excited to partner with educators, policymakers, businesses and universities.

“Together, we will continue to promote access and opportunity for all children in all corners of Minnesota,” Jett said.

Former DFL state representative Paul Marquart has been named revenue commissioner. He served on the House Tax Committee for 18 years, including four years as chairman.

Nicole Blissenbach, who has served as the temporary commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry since August, will lead the agency on a permanent basis.

Ida Rukavina, executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools and daughter of the late representative Tom Rukavinahe was appointed commissioner of the Department of Resources and Rehabilitation of the Iron Range.

“I look forward to working with the people and communities of the Taconite Attendance Area to continue working toward a future that includes jobs that support families, a strong education system, and thriving cities and towns,” Rukavina said in a statement.

The appointments follow recent retirements and departures from Walz’s cabinet.

Cunningham will be the first black woman to serve as Minnesota’s health commissioner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said.

Timothy Beebe, interim dean of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, praised Cunningham’s “extensive experience in public health, patient care and public service.” Cunningham was previously an assistant professor at the U School of Medicine, where she focused her teaching and fellowship on race and medicine.

St. Cloud Schools Superintendent Laurie Putnam, who served as assistant superintendent under Jett for three years, said having him as education commissioner is “an incredible win for Minnesota students.” Jett has focused on expanding opportunities for students throughout his career, she said.

“I think it’s a win for educators as well, not just for administrators,” Putnam said. “It’s wonderful to have someone in that chair who has played the role of assistant principal, principal and superintendent. But he’s also been a teacher and coach.”

Jacobson will bring a wealth of experience to the position of public safety commissioner. Prior to his appointment, he was the acting deputy deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). He spent 16 years as New Brighton’s director of public safety and police chief, directing the city’s police, fire and emergency operations. He also served briefly as Stillwater’s acting police chief and as acting DHS inspector general.

“Bob Jacobson is one of the leaders with the highest integrity I have ever met,” state Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead said in a statement. “He will bring a balance of law enforcement experience and friendliness and flexibility to the role of Commissioner of Public Safety.”

Staff writer Jenny Berg contributed to this report.

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