Bill would limit ex-lawmakers on the Board of Regents

Some legislators say former lawmakers have too much influence on the board.

Bill would limit ex-lawmakers on the Board of Regents

Michael Zittlow

With the highest ratio of former politicians on the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Board of Regents in history, DFL lawmakers are crying foul.

A bill that would limit the number of past lawmakers on the board to a single regent has been proposed in the Minnesota Senate and House.

Two former Republican representatives, Steven Sviggum and Laura Brod, were chosen to fill open board positions two weeks ago. Sviggum and BrodâÄôs appointments bring the former lawmaker tally to three âÄìâÄì a quarter of the board.

All three would be allowed to finish out their terms under the bill.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said she introduced the bill because she was troubled that many qualified candidates were overlooked in favor of Sviggum and Brod.

“ItâÄôs very difficult to say no to our colleagues,” she said.

Pappas said having more than one former lawmaker reduces the breadth of experience on the board to the detriment of the University.

House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee Chairman Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said he does not support capping the number of past lawmakers.

Nornes said he has confidence that SviggumâÄôs experience as a legislator will increase communication between the University and lawmakers.

“He can bridge that gap between the system and the Legislature,” Nornes said.

Political alliances didnâÄôt play a role in the appointments, he said.

But Pappas contended that Brod and Sviggum had less experience than other regents candidates, including an incumbent regent and the former president of the University of Maine.

“Neither one of them showed an interest in higher education or the University when they were in the Legislature,” she said.

Pappas does not expect Republican leadership to grant her bill a hearing in the Senate Higher Education Committee.

“It would be them admitting they did something wrong.”

But Nornes said the companion bill in the House, proposed by Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, will most likely be heard by the committee.

Pappas and Rukavina were the chairs of the Senate and House higher education committees before the DFL lost their legislative majorities.

Brod and Sviggum were chosen along with David McMillan, a Minnesota utilities company executive, and incumbent David Larson, a Cargill executive, to fill four open spots in the Board of Regents two weeks ago.

The Legislature approved Brod and Sviggum by mostly party line votes. Drawing the greatest criticism from the DFL, Brod was chosen over incumbent Steven Hunter, deemed “the workhorse” of the board.

Rep. Connie Doepke, R-Orono, said Sviggum and Brod are the first Republican legislators to serve on the board in 20 years. Before them, two DFL lawmakers, including current board member Dean Johnson, were chosen.