Four U of M regents approved by Legislature

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Amid accusations of partisan politics for one seat, four people received legislative approval to sit on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.

Steve Sviggum, a former House speaker, and business executive David McMillan were chosen to represent the 2nd and 8th Congressional Districts, respectively, and David Larson, a retired Cargill executive, was selected for a second term representing the 3rd Congressional District.

The controversy stemmed from the selection of Laura Brod, a former Republican representative, who was selected for the at-large seat over current regent Steven Hunter, the secretary/treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Brod and Sviggum were two of the three finalists recommended by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council for the 2nd District seat.

A Feb. 16 joint meeting of the House and Senate higher education committees recommended Sviggum represent the district. When it came time to vote for the at-large member, Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan) asked if it “was appropriate” to nominate someone else for the position. Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), a meeting co-chair, said rules adopted by the joint committee permit a candidate for a specific seat to be eligible for any other position for which they are also eligible.

All Republicans then voted for Brod, while all DFLers voted for Hunter.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) called it “the most overtly politicized vote that we have seen in 150 years of the University of Minnesota.”

When the Legislature got together, a motion by House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) to move the recommendations back to the joint committee was defeated 105-87.

“A process that installed a politician who didn’t even apply for the position over the incumbent labor regent who has a strong record of service on the board – a candidate that received bipartisan support in the last election and about whom no questions of performance were raised – does not reflect what is best for our state,” he said.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) noted Brod’s application included check marks for both the congressional seat and the at-large position.

In nominating Hunter, Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) said there has almost always been labor representation on the Board of Regents. “Don’t turn back a tradition … don’t slap working people in the face,” he pleaded.

The only governmental body in the state whose members are elected by the Legislature is the university’s governing body. It is comprised of 12 members who serve staggered six-year terms without pay. By law, one regent is selected from each of the state’s eight congressional districts and four serve at-large.