Committee names 4 University regents

Two incumbents, two newcomers were recommended to join the board.

Abdul Omari, a third-year doctoral candidate studying international and comparative development education, earned the recommendation of the Joint Higher Education Committee on Regent Selection for the student at-large position on the University's Board of Regents on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at the State Office Building in St. Paul.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Abdul Omari, a third-year doctoral candidate studying international and comparative development education, earned the recommendation of the Joint Higher Education Committee on Regent Selection for the student at-large position on the University’s Board of Regents on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at the State Office Building in St. Paul.

Alexi Gusso

A joint committee of legislators recommended four candidates to serve on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents on Tuesday night.

After a long evening of deliberation, the higher education committees from the state House and Senate chose two newcomers and two incumbents out of the nine candidates.

 The committee endorsed regent veterans Dean Johnson and Linda Cohen along with Peggy Lucas and Abdul Omari to be chosen as the new regents.

The full Legislature will make the final appointments next week. The recommendations aren’t final but indicate likely selections.

In a three-hour hearing, the committee deliberated on the 5th Congressional District candidates for nearly two hours.

After the first round of voting, Minneapolis businessman Ertugrul Tuzcu received no votes while housing developer Peggy Lucas and CEO of New Asia Partners Dennis Nguyen split majorities in the House and the Senate, calling for a second round. Tuzcu did not go on.

After two rounds, the committee still hadn’t reached a decision as both candidates had a majority in either house.

After a 15-minute recess, the joint committee voted a fourth time, and Lucas received a majority of votes in both chambers, securing the committee’s recommendation.

Lucas said she would continue to meet with legislators over the next week to further secure the position.

“I don’t think I can take a break, I have to keep going. But it will be a lot easier with the endorsement,” she said.

Rep. Ben Lien, DFL- Moorhead, who is currently serving his first term, said that the process was “very interesting” to be a part of.

“It was a back and forth meeting because they are all good candidates,” he said.

In a shorter and more streamlined process, the joint committee voted to recommend Abdul Omari for the at-large position reserved for a University student.

“It feels great. I can take a deep breath and exhale,” he said.

Omari, a third-year doctoral student studying international and comparative development education at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said he would continue to get “face time” at the Capitol and ask legislators for continued support.

Omari was chosen over journalism sophomore Drew Coveyou and master’s student Chris Tastad.

Tastad said he was “very surprised” by the joint committee’s actions and that the process has “essentially been a full-time job for the past month,”

The most challenging part for Tastad was the “the process of having to describe myself time and time again and answering questions way out of left field,” he said.

Coveyou said that he would use this experience to “move on” and work toward his goal of attaining a career in public policy and advocacy.

“I’m not going away,” he said. “I definitely have a lot of experience now dealing with legislators and the legislative body.”

In choosing the two at-large seats, lawmakers stuck to the status quo, recommending incumbents Linda Cohen and Dean Johnson.

Johnson received a majority in both chambers in the first round of voting, but Cohen received a majority in only one.

The committee selected Cohen after a second round.

Cohen, current chair of the board, said she too would spend time at the Capitol before next week’s official vote.

 “I’m thrilled to have gotten through the process and certainly hope the Legislature agrees with the recommendations here, and I would love to do the position again,” Cohen said. “Most likely I’ll stop by here again.”

Johnson — who was a member of the Legislature for almost 30 years before being appointed to the Board in 2007 — said that the regent selections are “tough” because of the personal nature of the process.

“It’s not really over until it’s over, but this [recommendation] goes a good, long way,” Johnson said. “On a personal note, I come from extremely humble beginnings on a farm, and I just didn’t think I’d be able to do this.”

In his third regent bid, Kelly Smith, superintendent for the Belle Plaine School District, was not recommended for advancement.

Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, thought the recommendations were “a good start.”

“They are all great candidates, and I’m impressed by the caliber of their qualifications and experience,” she said.

“I’m happy with the outcome, but anything can happen on the floor.”

 

-Jessica Lee contributed to this report.