For Regent H. Bryan Neel, fears that a nasty bit of political history might repeat itself were dispelled Tuesday night.
Neel was one of five regent candidates endorsed by the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee after interviews at the State Office Building in St. Paul. The Democratically controlled committee agreed with members of the predominantly Republican 1st Congressional District caucus, who chose Neel 36-21 over Winona physician Thomas Stoa last Wednesday.
Neel received the nomination for the 1st District seat, despite concerns that the committee would select Stoa, a Democrat who has served in the Legislature.
“I’m not surprised, but there’s always a sense of uncertainty,” Neel said. “. . .1997 is a chance for a fresh start. I’d like to be a part of that.”
In 1991, Neel also received the caucus’s endorsement, but the education committee tabbed Mankato attorney James Manahan as their favorite. Neel won in the Legislature that year despite the fact that, typically, the candidates selected by the education committee are ratified by the Legislature.
Ratification next Thursday before the full Legislature is the next and final stop on the regent interview circuit for Neel, the four other committee selections and their opponents.
The votes from members of the 1st District caucus split along party lines last Wednesday with Republicans voting for Neel, and Democrats voting for Stoa. The split led to speculation that Stoa would prevail Tuesday, a prediction that did not come to pass.
“I’m a bit disappointed,” Stoa said. “A lot of members wanted to honor the caucus recommendations. I couldn’t overcome that.”
Legislative caucuses from the five Congressional districts whose regent seats are open forwarded their non-binding endorsements to the committee during the past week.
All five caucus-endorsed candidates won committee approval Tuesday. The new regents should be named by Feb. 28.
Neel is not the only candidate whose nomination has ever been marred by cries of partisan foul play.
In 1993, the Legislature elected two candidates — current regents Julie Bleyhl and William Hogan — who did not receive the endorsements from their respective district caucuses, but were favored by the education committee. At the time, Hogan and Bleyhl’s districts had Republican majority representation.
Although Neel’s selection likely will not stir up further controversy, the committee’s 4th District selection might. The committee endorsed South St. Paul Superintendent David Metzen as their favorite to replace departing Regent Hyon Kim, despite charges of favoritism and sexism.
Metzen’s brother is Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, and some believe that the familial political ties helped secure the nomination for David Metzen. Also, some say that Roseville Superintendent Carol Ericson is at least equally fit for the job, and that she ought to replace Kim to keep women more fairly represented on the board.
“Did (my brother) support me? Yes. However, he only wishes he had that much influence,” David Metzen joked, but “please do not define or suggest that I am riding the coattails of my brother.”
Aside from Kim, there are only three female regents currently on the board, and Michael O’Keefe replaced Jean Keffeler in November. O’Keefe, who also received an education committee endorsement Tuesday, is a strong favorite to retain his 5th District seat.
O’Keefe’s opponent, William Drake, endorsed the incumbent before legislators even voted, effectively bowing out of the race.
“I urge you to support the outstanding candidate here, in Michael O’Keefe,” Drake said.
Bob Bergland, former secretary of agriculture in the Jimmy Carter administration, and physician Maureen Reed were also chosen as committee favorites. Bergland is running for Stanley Sahlstrom’s 7th District seat, while Reed is pursuing Wendell Anderson’s 6th District seat. Sahlstrom and Anderson have both opted not to seek re-election.
Bergland said the education committee could not go wrong in its selection for the 7th District. “(Candidate Herbert) Chilstrom is a wonderful character,” Bergland said. “This was not a matter of choosing between a good person and a bad person.”
Reed defeated Stillwater consultant Barbara Klemme 50-7, the largest margin other than O’Keefe’s victory. Reed narrowly defeated Klemme, however, in a 62-60 outcome in their district caucus Thursday.
“I can’t be surprised (at Tuesday’s margin), because I don’t know what to expect,” Reed said. “Each step is an adventure.”