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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 22 2011

Former GOP lawmakers win U of M board seats

ST. PAUL – Two former Republican lawmakers survived partisan controversy Monday night to become University of Minnesota regents.

Ex-House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon will represent the 2nd Congressional District, mostly south of the Twin Cities, and former Rep. Laura Brod of New Prague will be an at-large member of the university’s governing board. They join former Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, as one-time lawmakers on the 12-member board.

Sviggum and Brod promised to put partisan differences aside when they begin their jobs next month.

A joint House-Senate session ended with mostly partisan votes in three of the four regent races.

Joining Brod and Sviggum as a new regent will be David McMillan of the 8th Congressional District, in the northeast. Duluth attorney McMillan won 141-49 over William Burns, nominated by Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth.

Incumbent David Larson of the 3rd district, serving the western Twin Cities, won all but two votes.

For the at-large position, Republicans put Brod in the regent’s job 104-86 over incumbent Steve Hunter. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, nominated Hunter, who the lawmaker said represents the labor community.

“Don’t we have enough politicians?” Rukavina asked.

He said other than one brief time, labor has had a regent seat since 1933.

“There is enough strife in this country and state,” Rukavina told Republicans, asking them to keep the labor tradition alive. “Don’t slap working people in the face.”

Sviggum defeated Tom Devine 104-85.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said Sviggum “has done more single-handed damage to the budget than probably any other legislator” because of “dramatic cuts” that occurred during Sviggum’s tenure as House speaker.

Sviggum said that he will not rely on partisan politics as a regent, and could request more money is appropriate.

As speaker, Sviggum said, he looked at the entire needs of the state. As regent, he added, he will concentrate on university interests and said he could request more money if appropriate.

Sviggum works half time at the university’s Humphrey Institute but said he has checked to make sure there is no conflict of interest with him holding that job and being a regent.

Brod and Sviggum said the university should become more accountable for money it spends.

Brod said that regents have the same goal.

“We are all there for the same reason, which is the make the university a jewel,” she said.

Regents serve six-year terms and are not paid.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, called the vote “the most overt display of partisan politics that has ever invaded the selection of regents in the 150-year history of the University of Minnesota.”

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, however, said the nomination process went through the proper legislative process, including a House-Senate committee. The committee was controlled by Republicans, which hold a legislative majority.


Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.