ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – The University of Minnesota’s governing board shifted to the right on Monday as the GOP-led Legislature made over the Board of Regents by electing two former lawmakers, both Republicans, and dropping a union official.
Former House Speaker Steve Sviggum and former state Rep. Laura Brod won seats on the 12-member board, while AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Steve Hunter was passed over for a second term. Acting in a joint House-Senate convention, lawmakers also re-elected retired Cargill executive David Larson, who unlike Hunter had the backing of legislative higher education panels. They also elected David McMillan for the 8th Congressional District seat.
The Board of Regents consists of one representative for each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts and four at-large members. Members are elected for unpaid, six-year terms. The board makes policy for the University of Minnesota, adopts the budget and sets tuition.
Democrats slammed the selection process under Republicans as overly political, while Republicans said it was proper. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, pleaded with the majority to maintain an informal, longstanding tradition of reserving one spot for a labor representative before Brod defeated Hunter for an at-large seat.
“There’s enough strife in this country and state right now between the labor community and your party. I think it’s time to give us one, just one,” Rukavina said.
He added: “Don’t slap working people in the face.”
After the vote, Brod said she applied for both the at-large position and the 2nd Congressional District seat that Sviggum won.
“I don’t think that any spot should be fenced out for any group,” said Brod, who represented New Prague in the House for eight years. “Making sure that college is affordable and making sure that the university is providing the best education at the lowest cost should be important to everybody.”
Hunter declined to comment.
Sviggum’s voting record on past reductions in state aid for higher education also sparked debate. The Kenyon Republican held the top post in the House from 1999 to 2006, during several rounds of major budget cuts, and went on to serve as commissioner of labor and industry under former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Sviggum currently works as a farmer and half-time fellow at the University’s Humphrey School Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.
“No single legislator has been more hostile to the University of Minnesota, certainly from a funding standpoint,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.
Sviggum said his job as a regent will be focused on the university’s needs. He said he hopes to push the school toward measuring its performance — such as number of degrees granted and number of students who finish in four years — as a basis for state funding requests.
“I would like to see the university move in the direction of being more accountable for the dollars they receive,” he said.
With Sviggum and Brod, former state legislators will hold a quarter of the seats on the Board of Regents. Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson is serving a term that expires in 2013.
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