Legislature selects University grad Tom Devine to replace Sviggum as regent

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The Minnesota Legislature selected Tom Devine Wednesday to fill the empty Board of Regents seat.

Devine will take over for former Regent Steve Sviggum, who left the board in early March after a lengthy conflict of interest review concluded he could not serve as both a regent and communications chief with the Senate Republican Caucus.

Devine was one of two candidates the full Legislature considered to fill Sviggum’s seat. The other was Bob Vogel, president and CEO of New Market Bank. The Legislature chose Devine over Vogel by a 110-75 vote.

Many legislators said it was Devine’s presence at the Legislature that won him the seat on the University of Minnesota’s governing board.

“He’s been around the Capitol this whole session,” said Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake. “He’s the only one that came to my office. I got to know him.”

Dettmer, who is the vice chair of the House Higher Education Policy and Finance committee, also voted for Devine Tuesday night when both higher education committees met to recommend a candidate but failed to do so.

Instead, the full Legislature held a vote between Vogel and Devine.

“Devine went around and talked to almost everybody,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. “Individual campaigning and talking to people is what worked.”

Devine is a University of Minnesota alumnus and has been active in the Alumni Association and the University Legislative Network, among other groups, according to his résumé. He stepped down from many of his obligations before the regent process began to eliminate any conflicts, Devine said.

He co-owns the David Agency, an insurance firm based in Edina, and has a son who is a freshman at the University.

Devine said he’s been interested in higher education for a long time and thinks it’s an asset to the state.

“Higher education is, here in Minnesota, is really truly a valuable resource and that we need to invest in higher education,” he said. “It’s the backbone of Minnesota — it’s what separated Minnesota from a number of other states.”

He’ll represent the 2nd Congressional District and serve out the rest of Sviggum’s term, which ends in 2017. After redistricting takes effect in 2013, Devine will technically live in the 1st Congressional District — a concern Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, raised Tuesday while both higher education committees attempted to recommend a candidate.

But Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, dismissed her concern and said Divine has been a resident of the current 2nd district for nearly 20 years and after redistricting, would only be a few blocks outside the district. After he was elected, Devine agreed.

“I’ve raised my family; I’ve lived there for 24 years; I see nothing changing tomorrow,” Devine said. “I will continue to represent the interests of the 2nd Congressional District. After I take my oath of office, I become a representative of the state of Minnesota.”

The House and Senate higher education committees met Tuesday night to recommend a candidate to the full Legislature but failed to do so after two rounds of voting. A recommendation hinged on netting a majority of votes from both committees, which neither Devine nor Vogel managed.

A third candidate, Belle Plaine public schools superintendent Kelly Smith, was cut from the second round of voting Tuesday after receiving just two votes in the first round.

The committees chose the three finalists from a list of 18 possible regent candidates made by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council in December 2010. Devine interviewed for the job and was recommended to the joint higher education committee, but Sviggum, Laura Brod, David McMillan and incumbent David Larson were eventually elected to the board in 2011.

The Board of Regents meets again in May.