Regent candidates start interview process today

Joel Sawyer

The regent selection process enters a new phase today, as candidates begin interviews with legislators from the congressional districts they seek to represent.
Six candidates vying for three of the five open seats on the Board of Regents will interview today. The remaining candidates will interview Thursday and Friday.
This week’s interviews are with joint legislative caucus groups representing districts that have open seats. Lawmakers will interview candidates before voting for one candidate whom they would like to see represent their district.
The recommended candidate from each district will be reviewed by the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee, who will forward one finalist per seat Feb. 18 to a joint session of the Legislature for approval. New regents should be announced by Feb. 28.
The caucus selection is only a recommendation that could be overturned by the education committee or joint session.
“At each step of the process, there is balloting, and there can be changes,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, chairman of the education committee.
Although such occurrences are rare, they have happened recently. Regent H. Bryan Neel, who is up for re-election and interviewing today, was not forwarded to the Legislature by the education committee in 1991 when he ran for his first term. Neel, who was recommended overwhelmingly by the 1st District caucus at the time, was passed over by the committee in favor of Mankato attorney James Manahan.
But Neel prevailed as legislators ignored the committee’s recommendation of Manahan and selected the Rochester physician instead.
Similarly, Regents William Hogan and Julie Bleyhl gained their seats in 1993 after the education committee overrode the recommendation of their district caucuses. Unlike in Neel’s case, legislators stuck with the committee’s choices.
“There have been twists and turns, historically,” Carlson said, “but the congressional district candidate usually prevails.”
It’s anyone’s guess who will prevail in the 4th and 6th Districts. Each district has three solid candidates contending for one seat.
The 7th District also appears to be a toss-up with former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bergland squaring off against Herbert Chilstrom, former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
More certain, would be the recommendations of Neel and Regent Michael O’Keefe, who appear to share the support of many 5th District legislators.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who will convene the 5th District caucus today, said she and her colleagues have nothing but praise for O’Keefe.
“Everyone thought (his appointment) was wonderful, and we see no reason not to re-appoint him.”
Candidates’ names were forwarded to the Legislature by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council last month after the council narrowed the pool of candidates for the five open seats to 12.