West St. Paul city councilor among four nominated for UMN Board of Regents
A group of 19 state lawmakers has nominated three newcomers and one sitting regent for election to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
Tadd Johnson, who was appointed by Gov. Tim Walz in July to fill a vacancy on the board, was the only candidate to win unanimous support from the joint higher education committee Tuesday night.
For the three other seats, candidates backed by DFL lawmakers won the joint committee’s nomination while Republican-backed candidates took second.
The Regent Candidate Advisory Committee, which vets candidates, advanced 12 names for consideration by the joint legislative committee. The final step will be election by the full Legislature, which is not bound by the joint committee’s choices.
Johnson won the joint committee’s support for the 8th Congressional District seat over his lone challenger, regulatory plant pathologist Susan Cohen.
Johnson retired as director of graduate studies at the U’s Duluth campus last year before Walz tapped him to replace of David McMillan, who left the board to become Duluth’s interim chancellor. Johnson is the first American Indian to serve as a regent.
Johnson on Tuesday spoke of a need for regents to hold listening sessions with students and to better market the U’s outstate campuses, and he backed a community policing approach to campus crime.
For the 2nd District seat, the joint committee picked Robyn Gulley, a union trainer and West St. Paul city councilor, over Joe Atkins, an attorney, Dakota County commissioner and ex-state lawmaker.
Gulley pledged to make “affordable tuition” and safe and accessible campuses her priorities if elected.
During his introductory remarks to lawmakers Tuesday, Atkins endorsed Gulley, saying she’s “fantastic” and that he values diversity on the board.
Atkins added that if lawmakers were inclined to pick him, it should be because they want someone who understands the Legislature and think the board needs someone who would “give ‘em hell and ask a whole bunch of tough questions.”
The joint committee’s 13 DFLers voted for Gulley while the six Republicans favored Atkins, who had represented the DFL as a legislator. “This is the most Republican votes I’ve gotten in my life,” he quipped.
Former state lawmaker Steve Sviggum, who did not seek reelection, now represents the 2nd District.
The race for the 3rd District seat, now held by attorney Darrin Rosha, who did not seek reelection, featured four people forwarded by the advisory committee.
Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, won the nomination after receiving first-round votes from all but one DFL lawmaker. She told the joint committee that while doing her homework on the position for the last two months, she learned of leaky roofs and broken elevators in student dorms. And she supports making school more affordable for Minnesota residents.
Republicans favored William Humphries, a restaurateur and former Gopher football player.
Former Congressman Bill Luther and former Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler also received first-round votes.
Wheeler’s name came back up as the joint committee began interviewing candidates for the at-large seat now held by board chairman Ken Powell, whose name was not forwarded by the advisory committee.
Wheeler on Tuesday received 12 of 19 first-round votes, winning the nomination over Val Aarsvold, executive director of the Minnesota FFA Foundation.
Also receiving votes were former mens gymnastics coach Mike Burns and Twin Cities student body president Flora Yang. Becky Siekmeier, a former Gopher track and field athlete, also was considered.
Wheeler said that given her experience at Allina, she’d “be able to look at all sides” of discussions around the U’s plans for academic medicine and the planned merger between Sanford Health and the U’s partner, Fairview Health Services.
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