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Heck no, she won't go: Molnau dismisses calls to resign from MnDOT

ST. PAUL - Carol Molnau sat in her Minnesota Department of Transportation office fighting a cold and, in essence, fighting for her job.

"My job is here," she said emphatically, pointing around her modest office.

The state's lieutenant governor and transportation commissioner declared that she would not resign despite mounting criticism about a Minneapolis bridge collapse, construction of another bridge being delayed for years, a $157,000 staircase, an emergency management employee who did not return to Minnesota after the collapse and many other charges of poor leadership at MnDOT.

Molnau, the first lieutenant governor to also serve as a commissioner, likely will receive the boot after lawmakers return to St. Paul for their 2008 session on Feb. 12. As a commissioner, senators may approve or reject her appointment by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"Carol Molnau will not be the commissioner of the Department of Transportation when the gavel comes down at the end of session," said Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Murphy.

Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, wants fellow senators to reject Molnau. Both he and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said there are enough votes to oust her as commissioner, although lawmakers cannot force her out of the lieutenant governor's office.

Molnau said she sees no need to step down.

"My plan is to continue to work for the citizens of the state. I don't plan on making an adjustment," Molnau said. "They have the power to do that, however, if they choose to do that."

Continued speculation about Molnau's future comes amid a recent poll suggesting she lacks public support. Forty-three percent of Minnesotans polled disapprove of her work at MnDOT, compared to only 25 percent who approve of her performance, according to the poll by Minnesota Public Radio and the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

If it were up to him, Murphy said, a vote on Molnau's confirmation would occur not long after the Legislature convened at noon Feb. 12. But the confirmation is before the full Senate because Murphy's committee did not act on it last year, so Pogemiller controls when a vote will occur.

Pogemiller said he believes senators want to start the session on a "positive tone" and pass some bills before taking up the Molnau confirmation. That vote will come "at some appropriate time, earlier rather than later," he said.

"We don't want to start out the session by doing that," Pogemiller said of voting on Molnau's confirmation. "We will definitely take it up and I think we just want to do things in a dignified way."

"We're simply not looking for confrontation right now," he added.

Molnau said she and Pawlenty discussed her job status days after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed on Aug. 1, but he did not see a reason she should resign. She said she has not discussed the issue with him lately.

Pawlenty says he supports his commissioner. He recently told reporters that Molnau has been unfairly linked to the bridge collapse and a delayed bridge project on the southeast side of the Twin Cities.

"I don't think her story or her side has gotten out very fully," Pawlenty said.

Molnau defended MnDOT's action on the delayed Wakota Bridge spanning the Mississippi River, including its decision to re-bid part of the project. She even suggested an independent review be conducted by the legislative auditor.

Some state legislators claim Pawlenty asked Molnau to resign, but she refused. Molnau said in a recent interview: "That did not happen."

Speculation among many legislators is that Pawlenty intentionally does not appear in public with Molnau, seeking distance between him and a commissioner who has become a lightning rod for Democratic criticism. Molnau said she and Pawlenty seldom attend the same functions, but not because she is a burden.

"We almost never are together because there are a lot of obligations," Molnau said.

Among Murphy's criticisms of Molnau, whom he called "incompetent," is that she cannot handle both jobs simultaneously. That is unfounded, Molnau said, because she spends relatively little time in her lieutenant governor role.

"What I do here takes a bulk of my time," Molnau said from her corner office.