February 8, 2023

Health Mettler Institute

Healthy LifeStyle & Education

Gov. Tim Walz names new education, health and public safety commissioners

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz named six new state commissioners on Wednesday, filling out his cabinet as he heads into his second term.

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

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

“Together, we will continue to advance access and opportunity for every child in every corner of Minnesota,” Jett said.

Former DFL state Rep. Paul Marquart was appointed revenue commissioner. He served on the House Taxes Committee for 18 years, including four years as chair.

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

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

“I am looking forward to working with people and communities of the Taconite Assistance Area to continue working towards a future which includes jobs that support families, a strong educational system, and thriving cities and towns,” Rukavina said in a statement.

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

Cunningham will be the first Black woman to serve as Minnesota health commissioner, a Department of Health spokeswoman 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 in the U’s Medical School, where she focused her teaching and scholarship on race and medicine.

St. Cloud schools Superintendent Laurie Putnam, who served as assistant superintendent under Jett for three years, said that 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 also a win for educators — not only administrators,” Putnam said. “It’s wonderful to have somebody in that chair who has done the role of assistant principal, principal and superintendent. But he’s also been a teacher and a coach.”

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

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

Staff writer Jenny Berg contributed to this report.