State leg. picks regents

Former State Senator Dean Johnson won a seat, beating out Gov. Pawlenty’s pick.

The Legislature picked four new regents for the University on Thursday night at a joint session at the Capitol.

Venora Hung, Maureen Cisneros, Linda Cohen and Dean Johnson will serve six years on the Board of Regents.

Lawmakers didn’t just argue over which candidates to choose; they argued about the process to select the regents, amended in 2005.

Rep. Rob Eastlund, R-Isanti, criticized the joint committee that denied three of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recommended candidates.

“We have missed the intent of the law we created to take the partisanship out,” he said.

Eastlund said the joint committee didn’t follow the rules.

In response, Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said both the Board of Regents charter and the state constitution placed the power to choose regents in the Legislature, not with the governor.

The law states that if the committee denies any of the governor’s candidates, the governor must be allowed to pick new candidates, yet the Legislature cast votes without new recommendations.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the process was open and the committee listened to all the interviews and allowed every candidate to come forward.

“I thought it was a fair process,” he said.

Lawmakers voted out incumbent regent Peter Bell of the 5th Congressional District for Venora Hung.

Bell, who serves as both regent and chair of the Metropolitan Council, said he will not pursue the regent position in the future.

“The University was very stimulating,” he said. “I’ll miss the interaction with my colleagues.”

Bell said it’s hard to tell if the process was over politicized, but he believes that it should transcend partisanship.

“The last thing we want is for there to be Democrat or Republican regents,” he said. “If it’s a partisan process, at the end of the day, the University will be the loser.”

Lawmakers selected Maureen Cisneros for the student at-large seat. She is a University of Minnesota-Duluth master

student in the program for political leadership and advocacy.

After giving birth to a daughter two weeks ago, Cisneros said she received support from family and friends who helped her through the process.

“I am interested in hosting listening sessions for students at all the campuses so I can bring their concerns to the board,” she said.

The most controversial pick was between Linda Cohen and Dean Johnson for the at-large position. Cohen was the only candidate to be recommended by both the governor and the joint committee.

Dean Johnson recently served as the DFL Senate majority leader until he was voted out of office last November.

Lawmakers also nominated Cynthia Lesher, who currently serves on the Board of Regents. The Legislature chose between Lesher, Cohen and Johnson to fill one of two at-large seats.

The Legislature seemed in agreement about voting for Cohen, electing her for one of the at-large positions.

Lawmakers generally split on party lines about Lesher and Johnson, with DFL members voting for Johnson and Republicans for Lesher.

In the end, Johnson received the majority of the vote, despite his notoriety as a partisan figure.

When asked about how his politics will play out as a regent, he said, “One of the things I would like to do, especially during this legislative session, is simply to talk, to introduce myself to them and say, ‘I am now a regent.’ “