5th and 7th Districtsvote on candidates

by Tracy Ellingson

former U.S. secretary of agriculture and a current University regent both took one step closer to obtaining, or retaining, a seat on the University’s Board of Regents.
Legislators from Minnesota’s 5th and 7th Congressional Districts voted Wednesday to recommend regent candidates Michael O’Keefe and Bob Bergland, respectively, to the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee.
The votes continued the regent selection process, in which legislators from the districts that have a vacant seat on the board form a caucus to make a recommendation on a candidate they would like to see fill that vacancy.
Legislators from the districts said they were impressed by both candidates from their districts and expressed to those who didn’t receive the nomination that they should apply for a position on the board when an at-large regent spot opens next year. In the case of the 7th District, legislators were asked to choose between Bergland, a former U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Jimmy Carter, and Herbert Chilstrom, a former presiding bishop at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“I have nothing but the highest regard for Bob Bergland,” said Chilstrom following the vote. “I don’t feel I’ve really lost, because how can you feel like that when someone like Bergland has emerged.”
Although gaining a caucus recommendation is an advantage for the candidates, the true test will come in the next few weeks when all the candidates go before the Legislature’s joint committee, which chooses the finalists to be approved by the full Legislature.
“I’m having a little difficulty,” Bergland said, “trying to figure out precisely what the meaning of this vote tonight at the caucus level means.”
In fact, in past selections candidates have received caucus recommendations and lost the joint committee’s recommendation anyway. Regaining ground in the joint committee often requires lobbying with legislators before the vote.
“I’ll keep in there,” said Chilstrom, who said he hopes legislators on the other committees will ask tough questions and generate more discussion before making the final decision. He said the toughest questions he’s received so far in the process have come from students. But he added, “I’ve got other commitments so I can’t live (at the Capitol).”
In the 5th District, Bill Drake, president and CEO of a private medical technology company and a graduate of the University’s Law School, lauded the work O’Keefe has done on the board since Gov. Arne Carlson appointed him in November to take resigning regent Jean Keffeler’s seat.
“I want to be up front with all of you,” Drake told the legislators, “that … Michael O’Keefe is an exceptionally qualified candidate … and I really do think he deserves to be a regent for the University of Minnesota.”