Tumult ends for

by Stacy Jo

In a state where people should be getting used to last-minute political turns, one incumbent was elected to the Board of Regents on Thursday without his district’s endorsement.
Another incumbent was defeated after an eleventh-hour attempt at re-election.
And then two incumbents ran against one another for the same seat.
In all, the state Legislature elected four regents to the board Thursday afternoon, half of whom are fresh faces.
Dallas Bohnsack of New Prague and Anthony Baraga of Side Lake will begin their six-year terms on the 12-member board. Incumbent regents William Hogan II, chairman of the board, and William Peterson reclaimed their seats for the same duration.
Both Hogan and Baraga, of the 3rd and 8th Congressional districts respectively, received a unanimous 192 votes. Bohnsack, of the 2nd district, garnered 109; and at-large incumbent Peterson obtained 150.
“It was kind of a sweet experience,” University graduate Baraga said of his success Thursday.
But the process wasn’t quite as smooth for other candidates.
Wanted: female incumbent
For former Regent Julie Bleyhl, the beginning of the end started in January, when she was not recommended by a regent selection council for re-election to the 2nd district seat.
Although incumbent regents are almost always re-elected, the Regents Candidate Advisory Council did not offer any concrete reasons why Bleyhl was not selected.
But the council simply makes suggestions to the state Legislature on whom to elect. So in a last-ditch effort to maintain the current female representation on the board, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, nominated Bleyhl for re-election on Thursday.
Kahn’s legislative district includes the East Bank of the University campus and several campus neighborhoods.
Kahn argued that gender imbalance on the board must be considered before voting four men into positions on the “malformed” board.
Before legislators approved new members Thursday, the board was comprised of eight men and four women, including Bleyhl. After Thursday’s vote, nine board members are men and three are women.
“I cannot sit quietly,” Kahn told the full Legislature, adding that the Board of Regents “is one of the worst examples of an old boys’ club in the state.”
But Kahn’s efforts narrowly failed, as Bleyhl garnered about 80 votes to Bohnsack’s 109.
Bohnsack said he was not surprised that a legislator nominated Bleyhl for the seat. “I had heard it might happen,” he said.
Bohnsack said that as legislators announced their picks during the district voting process — about a 20-minute process — he was uncertain who had captured more votes, himself or Bleyhl. Bohnsack hugged his cheering family in celebration after his success was announced.
A second attempt
After district regents were chosen, legislators turned to the board’s open at-large seat — and found a familiar name.
Bleyhl’s name was again announced, this time as a candidate for the at-large seat, after she was nominated by Rep. Carol Molnau, R-Chaska.
Molnau’s nomination then pitted Bleyhl against incumbent Peterson.
But this time legislators strongly favored Peterson, who obtained 150 votes to about 40 for Bleyhl.
Despite Kahn’s earlier plea for more female representation on the board, the veteran legislator voted for Peterson, rather than Bleyhl, for the at-large position.
She said her vote went to Peterson because he was the actual at-large candidate, while Bleyhl wanted to represent the 2nd district. Voting for Bleyhl as an at-large candidate would have shown legislators that she fell for their hypocrisy, she said.
Peterson said that after Bleyhl lost re-election to the 2nd district, he expected her to become his competition for the at-large seat. Running against his colleague and friend put him in an uncomfortable position, he said.
He added that although the board’s gender balance is a key issue for some legislators, “I’m sure they voted for (Bleyhl) for her qualifications” and not because she is a woman.
After both attempts to return Bleyhl to the board failed, legislators honored her work at the University with a round of applause. The former regent was unavailable for comment.
Upset negated
Although Hogan breezed back into his position Thursday, it wasn’t without controversy.
On Monday, after he had been selected by the regents advisory council, Hogan lost the 3rd district endorsement amid legislators’ queries into his business practices, citing possible conflicts of interest with fellow board members.
Hogan answered legislators’ questions and denied any wrongdoing.
The following day, Tuesday, that decision was negated by an overwhelming endorsement from a joint legislative committee, which is not required to follow the district’s endorsement. The full Legislature elected him Thursday.
Several legislators have said Hogan’s defeat on Monday might have stemmed from old party politics. In 1993, Hogan was elected to the board by House Democrats after failing to get the district’s endorsement. Republicans were so infuriated by the turn, they walked out of the House chambers in protest.
Denying Hogan the district endorsement this year might have been a way to get revenge, legislators said.