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Republicans back former legislator Steve Sviggum in surprise bid for UMN regents seat

MINNEAPOLIS — Five years after he was forced to resign from the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents, former House speaker Steve Sviggum could return to the board after a surprise move Tuesday by Republican lawmakers.

The Regent Candidate Advisory Council, which vets candidates, presented three finalists for the seat representing the 2nd Congressional District. But during a joint meeting of the House and Senate higher education committees Tuesday, Sviggum's name was added to the list.

Republicans threw their support behind Sviggum, outnumbering Democrats, who backed former Mendota Heights mayor Sandra Krebsbach.

Former Green Bay Packer Jim Carter and Xcel Energy executive Ian Benson also were considered for the seat, which had no incumbent.

Sviggum served on the university's governing body for about a year but resigned in 2012 after accepting a job with the Senate Republican Caucus. Sviggum wanted to serve both roles but others viewed that as a conflict of interest.

Sviggum's nomination Tuesday seemed to surprise Democrats.

When Sviggum was asked to introduce himself, he indicated that he, too, hadn't expected to be a candidate.

"I had a plan to be at a high school basketball game about three hours ago," he said.

Democrats took issue with the addition of Sviggum and an unsuccessful 8th District candidate who was not vetted by the advisory council.

Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, said it's "really disgusting" that the appointment process has been politicized.

"I'm not even sure why this (advisory) committee still exists if we're going to keep appointing people off the floor who weren't even vetted," he said.

However, the three other candidates who won the joint committee's recommendations Tuesday were among the finalists identified by the council.

Darrin Rosha, incumbent for the 3rd District seat, won with Republican support as Democrats backed Tammy Lee Stanoch, chief corporate affairs officer at St. Paul-based gene-technology firm Recombinetics Inc.

David McMillan, incumbent for the 8th District, had bipartisan support.

Thomas Devine, who now represents the 2nd District, won a recommendation for an at-large seat, despite substantial Republican support for General Mills CEO Kendall Powell.

Regents serve six-year terms without pay. The full Legislature will vote on the appointments later this month.