In an emotional announcement today, former Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum told the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents he would resign from the governing body.
Sviggum was serving as both a university regent and as chief spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus. The Board of Regents met Thursday to discuss whether the two jobs are in conflict. A three-member regents panel determined last week that Sviggum had an "unmanageable conflict of interest," and that he needed to choose one position or the other.
The Regents were preparing to vote on a resolution that would ask — but not force — Sviggum to resign his spot on the board or his spot with the GOP.
In the few minutes he was given to address the board before the vote, Sviggum made it clear he did not see this as a fair fight.
"There's that line about fighting city hall. For those who think fighting city hall is tough, try fighting the University of Minnesota Board of Regents," said Sviggum.
Sviggum told the board he disagreed with the findings in the resolution.
“For those who think fighting city hall is tough, try fighting the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.”Steve Sviggum
Regents had sought opinions on the matter from both university counsel and an outside attorney. Both determined Sviggum faced an irreconcilable conflict that could harm the university's reputation.
Acting on those opinions, an ad hoc panel made up of three regents approved the recommendation that was before the full board Thursday.
The panel had said Sviggum's partisan job with the Senate Republican Caucus unduly politicized the board, and Sviggum risked the political autonomy of the university by holding the Senate and regent positions at the same time. They questioned whether he would be able to put his Republican loyalties aside when they intersect with issues involving the university.
Until the Thursday meeting, Sviggum insisted he could serve, both as a regent and as spokesman for the GOP caucus, without conflict.
But in the end, Sviggum offered up his resignation, saying he didn't want to confront the board any longer on the issue.
"This hurts bad," he said, choking back tears. "But for the good of the university, for the good of Minnesota, I will again, again, leave something that I love. Madame chair, if you ask for my resignation, you will have it."
With that, Sviggum handed out copies of his resignation letter to reporters at the meeting, and left the room while the rest of the regents prepared to vote on the resolution asking him to resign. It passed unanimously. Regent Clyde Allen said the board's action wasn't personal.
"The issue was about the conflict between the two jobs, and not about personalities," he said. "I hope in the long term, Regent Sviggum will be able to see that."
This is the second time Sviggum has faced a choice over a conflict of interest issue during his short time with the Regents. Last spring, Sviggum quit a teaching and fundraising position at the university's Humphrey School, because a regents committee determined he faced a conflict by holding those two jobs.
After the meeting, Board of Regents chair Linda Cohen said she would accept Sviggum's resignation, and she said finding a replacement for Sviggum on the board should happen fairly quickly.
"That is up to the Legislature and the governor to figure out," she said. "The Board of Regents doesn't figure out how they replace a regent."
Asked by reporters about the replacement procedure, Gov. Mark Dayton cited a 1973 opinion from the attorney general that says when the Legislature is in session, its lawmakers who have the authority to name a regent's replacement. Dayton said he won't challenge that interpretation of the law.
Read Sviggum's resignation letter: