Labor loses while Republicans gain University of Minnesota regents seats
ST. PAUL Republican legislators flexed their new political muscle Monday by electing two of their former GOP colleagues to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. After a politically charged debate, Republican lawmakers chose former House S...
Republican legislators flexed their new political muscle Monday by electing two of their former GOP colleagues to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
After a politically charged debate, Republican lawmakers chose former House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon and former Rep. Laura Brod of New Prague, both Republicans, to two seats on the U's governing board. Sviggum was elected to the 2nd Congressional District seat, while Brod takes an at-large post.
In the process, they dumped Regent Steven Hunter of Woodbury, the secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, from what traditionally was considered the "labor seat" on the board.
A joint session of the House and Senate also elected Duluth business executive David McMillan to fill the 8th District seat being vacated by Regent Anthony Baraga, and they re-elected Cargill executive David Larson of Wayzata to a second term representing the 3rd District.
Politics is always part of the regents' election process, but Democratic legislators complained that Republicans raised partisanship to a new level by packing the board with their political pals.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, accused the Republicans of "putting party politics above what is best for Minnesota."
Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, criticized the majority for packing the 12-member board with former legislators. Sviggum and Brod will join former DFL Sen. Dean Johnson as regents, giving ex-lawmakers one-fourth
of the seats. Pappas said that was too many.
Republicans said all the candidates were exceptionally well qualified.
"No one can question Steve Sviggum's great love of this great state of Minnesota," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, citing his 30-plus years of service as a legislator and state agency head.
"He's also a farmer with real dirt under his fingernails, which is very important at a land-grant college."
Zellers said there was "no bigger cheerleader for the U of M than Representative Brod" during her tenure in the House from 2002 through 2008. He said she brings a nationwide perspective on higher education to the board from her experiences on the National Conference of State Legislatures and other organizations.
He did not announce the vote totals but said later it was largely along party lines.
Seats on the Board of Regents have been highly coveted throughout Minnesota's history.
"In my estimation, service of the Board of Regents of the university is the most important volunteer service you can provide in this state," said Tom Swain, a former insurance executive who has served the U in numerous capacities for decades. "The University of Minnesota is if not the, close to the, most critical public service institution in Minnesota."
The Legislature elects four regents every odd-numbered year. The board consists of one representative from each of the state's eight congressional districts and four at-large members. They serve staggered six-year terms without pay.
Organized labor has held a seat on the board for 73 of the past 78 years, according to an AFL-CIO spokesman. Democrats argued that tradition is needed to balance the interests of business and workers.
"Don't slap working people in the face" by denying them a seat on the board, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, pleaded with the Republican majority to no avail.
"It's just plain wrong that working Minnesotans will no longer have a say in how the university is run," state AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said after the vote.
Labor isn't the only interest group that traditionally has held a seat on the board.
The Mayo Clinic has been represented for decades, and at least one regent has been a farmer.
Regent Dallas Bohnsack of New Prague, who did not seek another term, is the only farmer on the current board. Now Sviggum, a part-time farmer with his family, will fill that role.
While politics colored this year's election, it wasn't as fiercely partisan as it was through much of the 20th century.
"It used to be blindly political," Swain recalled. Before the mid-1980s, regent candidates campaigned as if they were running for elective office, spending large sums to promote themselves and twisting legislators' arms for weeks before the vote.
That changed when lawmakers created the Regent Candidate Advisory Council to recruit, screen and recommend qualified candidates to the Legislature. For the most part, Swain said, legislators have followed the council's recommendations.
This year, the panel recommended 12 candidates for the four open seats on the board.
It endorsed both Sviggum and Brod for the 2nd District seat.
But after a GOP-run House-Senate committee nominated Sviggum for that post, the Republicans picked Brod for the at-large seat, ignoring the council's recommendations.
_Steve Sviggum, 2nd District regent
Education: B.A., St. Olaf College
Experience: Served in Minnesota House, 1979-2007 (speaker, 1999-2006); state commissioner of labor and industry, 2007-11; farmer and former high school math teacher and basketball coach; legislative fellow, U's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
_Laura Brod, at-large regent
Hometown: New Prague
Education: B.A., University of Minnesota; M.A., Mankato State University
Experience: Served in Minnesota House, 2002-08 (assistant majority leader and assistant minority leader); small-business owner.
_David McMillan, 8th District regent
Education: B.A., University of Minnesota, Duluth; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School
Experience: Graduate of Mounds View High School; senior vice president at ALLETE energy company; former chairman of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
_David Larson, 3rd District regent
Education: B.A., University of Minnesota.
Experience: U's Board of Regents, 2005-present; executive vice president and member of the board of directors at Cargill.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.