Regent selection to confront charges

by Tracy Ellingson

Five new members will join the Board of Regents today after the Legislature passes final approval on the slate of candidates.
Getting to this point, however, has been what many legislators, the governor and some regent candidates have called a long, inefficient and unfriendly process. Recognizing a growing desire to change the current process, two legislators presented plans Wednesday for a bill that could help cut back on the general discontent with the system next time a regent seat opens.
“My dissatisfaction (with the process) has been growing,” said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, co-sponsor of the new bill. “But it came to a head this year when we had problems in the 4th District.”
Greiling joined with women’s groups last week to protest the Joint Education Committee’s vote to back candidate David Metzen over candidate Carol Ericson to fill the 4th Congressional District seat. Greiling has said the board needs more gender balance.
The bill, which is the result of a doctoral dissertation by current University graduate student Rep. Tony Kinkel, DFL-Park Rapids, would simplify the selection process by removing congressional district representation from the board. He said it would also encourage good candidates to apply from around the state without penalizing them through the current, rigorous selection process.
Under Kinkel’s plan, the now eight congressional district regents’ seats would become regional seats. Four members would represent the seven-county metro area, another four would represent the non-metro area and the remaining four would be at-large seats, as they are now.
Many opponents of congressional district representation on the board contend that having one regent from each district could prevent the best candidates from earning a seat on the board if two or more of the top regent hopefuls come from the same district.
In the current process, two to four candidates from each district selected by the advisory council interview with a caucus of legislators from their congressional district. The caucus then recommends one candidate to the Joint Education Committee. The committee can overturn this recommendation in its vote.
Kinkel said the caucus vote almost always breaks along party lines.
“I can tell you, being here 11 years, it’s a straight party vote,” Kinkel said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been part of a congressional party caucus where we didn’t. The first question, the only question (about the candidates) was what party are they.”
Kinkel said he hopes that his bill will eliminate a great deal of the partisanship found in the current process by eliminating one step — the caucus vote.
Candidates themselves have expressed frustration with the caucus process. Congressional District Seven candidate Bob Bergland, who was recommended by both his district caucus and the Joint Education Committee, said he was unclear with what the caucus vote actually meant.
Bergland’s opponent Herbert Chilstrom said he was displeased with the system after the caucus vote because many of his caucus legislators didn’t even attend the interview. Greiling also cited this as a weakness of the congressional district system.
“(The caucus) is the place where legislators just don’t take enough interest,” Greiling said. “They can not show up or send in a proxy or tell candidates one thing, and by secret ballot gain a chip with somebody else by voting another way.”
Kinkel’s hope to reduce the partisanship of the process is also reflected in changes he has proposed for the selection of the candidate advisory council. The council recruits and selects two to four candidates for each seat.
Currently, 24 members are chosen by the Speaker of House and the Senate subcommittee on committees. Kinkel’s proposal would also allow key legislators from the minority party and the governor to participate in the process, which is currently not part of it.
In his plan, the advisory council would consist of 16 members instead of 24. The House speaker would make five appointments (as would the senate majority leader), the governor would select four members and the senate minority leader would appoint one member.
In addition, the House speaker would select the student member of the council and the senate majority leader would choose a faculty member. The current system does not account for a faculty member in the selection process.
Finally, Kinkel provided a stipulation that new regents go through an orientation before they begin their official duties. The entire board would also be subject to an evaluation every four years by an outside evaluator.
Sen. David Ten Eyck, DFL-Brainerd, is expected to introduce the Kinkel bill in the Senate.