University of Minnesota Loses Labor Representative

The University of Minnesota board of regents is made up of 12 people; one of them was traditionally a representative of organized labor. Well, no longer.

According to an article by Bill Salisbury in the Pioneer Press:

Republican legislators flexed their new political muscle Monday by electing two of their former GOP colleagues to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. After a politically charged debate, Republican lawmakers chose former House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon and former Rep. Laura Brod of New Prague, both Republicans, to two seats on the U’s governing board. Sviggum was elected to the 2nd Congressional District seat, while Brod takes an at-large post.

In the process, they dumped Regent Steven Hunter of Woodbury, the secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, from what traditionally was considered the “labor seat” on the board.

Every other year the legislature chooses, by election, four people to serve on the flagship state university’s board of regents. Regents serve six-year terms. The legislature also chose two business executives, one from Duluth and one from Wayzata, to sit on the board.

For 73 of the last 78 years, at least one representative of organized labor has been on the Minnesota board. This relationship was never official but it was well established.

Democrats in the legislature (in Minnesota known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party) accused Republicans of “putting party politics above what is best for Minnesota.”

The Republicans said that the four people they selected “exceptionally well qualified.”

Well “well qualified” is a matter of debate. No one’s arguing that the people they’ve chosen were incompetent. The trouble is that they simply do not represent the interests of University of Minnesota labor. The University of Minnesota has more than 19,000 employees.

Minnesota’s Republican House Speaker, Kurt Zellers, emphasized that the new board would, however, emphasize agriculture. “No one can question Steve Sviggum’s great love of this great state of Minnesota,” Zellers said. “He’s also a farmer with real dirt under his fingernails, which is very important at a land-grant college.”

Less than 2 percent of Minnesotans are full-time farmers.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer