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Five U of M Board of Regents nominees advance to final round of legislative voting

The full Legislature will convene later this session to cast votes on two at-large seats, one student at-large seat and one seat from Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

On Monday evening, the Minnesota House and Senate higher education committees held a joint meeting to narrow down a slate of candidates seeking a seat on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents, which governs the five-campus University of Minnesota system.

They advanced five nominees to the full Legislature, which will convene later this session to cast their votes on two at-large seats, one student at-large seat and one seat from Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District.

The 12-member board consists of four at-large positions and eight representing each of the state’s congressional districts.  

All three incumbents seeking reappointment made it to the final round of vetting on Monday, but none prevailed. Two were beaten Monday evening, while at-large Regent Dean Johnson notified the committees the day before that he’d suspended his campaign.

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Mary Davenport, former interim president of the Rochester Community and Technical College, got strong support to fill the first open at-large seat. But legislators struggled to come to a majority vote on a second at-large nominee, so they decided to advance two candidates: Kao Ly Ilean Her, chief executive officer of the Hmong Elders Center; and Sandy Wiese, senior vice president of government affairs and business development for Data Recognition Corporation.

For the student at-large seat, Mike Kenyanya, a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth, handily secured the joint committee’s recommendation after one round of voting. And Janie Mayeron, former U.S. magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, emerged as the frontrunner for the Fifth Congressional District seat after three rounds of voting.

No guarantees

While the higher education committees are tasked with advancing a single nominee for each open seat, some level of indecision is not unprecedented.

Legislators usually make appointments to the Board of Regents during session in even-numbered  years, taking up four of the 12 regent posts every other year. But last session the committees advanced two nominees to fill the First Congressional District seat vacated by Patricia Simmons, who stepped down in the midst of her 6-year term.

Davenport advanced to that final round of voting, before the full Legislature, along with one other finalist. But she ended up losing to Randy Simonson, a veterinarian and businessman who had narrowly lost his standing in the prior stage of voting but wound up back in the running by way of nomination by Rep. Drew Christensen, R-Savage, then vice-chair of the House Higher Education and Career Readiness Policy and Finance Committee.

This means the two incumbents who were cut from the running Monday — Regent Peggy Lucas, currently representing the Fifth Congressional District, and Abdul Omari, the at-large student regent — could still reappear, before the full Legislature.

While he didn’t prevail on Monday, Omari’s supporters granted him two separate attempts at securing a nomination to advance to the full Legislature for final consideration.

Heading into the joint committee meeting, Omari’s name wasn’t on any list of finalists up for consideration. In seeking reappointment to the student at-large seat, he’d been eliminated by the 24-member Regent Candidate Advisory Council, which had facilitated the search process and recommended 16 candidates for consideration by the joint House and Senate higher education committees.

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Omari resurfaced, by nomination, in the Fifth Congressional District vote. While he made it to a third round of voting for this seat, he ended up losing to Mayeron with just 10 votes compared to her 16 votes.  

Omari then made his way into the final cohort of candidates up for consideration — for the two at-large seats — again by way of nomination. He advanced to a third round of voting (out of five), but garnered a much smaller show of support in this pool of competitors.