Students question O’Keefe, other regent candidates

by Tracy Ellingson

During a reprieve from a long legislative interview process, some regent candidates vying for open seats spent time answering questions from the people whom their decisions will affect most if they are elected.
Students interviewed three candidates for five of the open seats on the 12-member Board of Regents Wednesday at Coffman Memorial Union. Regent Michael O’Keefe and his opponent William Drake, a graduate of the University Law School and the president of a local medical technology company, had an hour each to answer questions about their views on the duties of the regents. Both are candidates for the 5th Congressional District seat.
Candidate Barbara Klemme of the 4th District also participated.
The open forum was sponsored by the Minnesota Student Association.
The candidates finished interviews with the Regent Candidate Advisory Council last month, and have some time off before going in front of legislators for more questioning. O’Keefe is considered to be a heavy favorite in retaining his seat.
“I feel unfortunate,” Drake said Wednesday of his opponent, “that we’re in the same district because he should get on this Board of Regents … And I, frankly, think that he should continue to be on the Board of Regents.”
However, Drake said that students should consider that O’Keefe, whom Gov. Arne Carlson appointed to the board in November to replace resigning regent Jean Keffeler, would never have sought the position if he had not been appointed last fall. O’Keefe holds one of two seats on the board that are up for re-election.
The two 5th District candidates, who did not attend each another’s student interviews, had similar responses to students’ questions on topics such as tuition and the board’s relationship with the University president.
For instance, both candidates agreed that members of the board have an obligation to serve the people of Minnesota first and foremost.
“I think there’s only one constituency,” O’Keefe said when asked to which constituency the board most responds to, “and that is the people of the state of Minnesota.”
When asked the same question, Drake agreed that a major responsibility of the regents is to help maintain an institution that is valued by the entire state.
During both discussions Jacob Freeze, a graduate student in Classical and Near Eastern Studies, brought up a common concern among students: the annually increasing cost of tuition. Freeze slammed his hand on the table in frustration toward the end of Drake’s discussion time and said he didn’t think the other students present were pressing the candidates enough on this topic.
“(Tuition increase) is like a hammer,” Freeze said during the discussion with Drake, “and I hear all these little issues.”
MSA member Adam Miller admonished Freeze for his actions, saying he was being disruptive and disrespectful toward the candidate. But Drake attempted to address Freeze’s concern.
“I would certainly go to the Legislature to ask for support,” Drake said.
O’Keefe also answered a question about tuition increases during his interview, saying he opposes it.
“I’m a strong believer in public institutions and in keeping tuition as low as possible,” he said. “