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Johnson, Cohen re-elected to university board

Dean Johnson waves his thanks to Minnesota legislators Wednesday, March 6, 2013, for re-elected him to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. (Don Davis/Forum News Service photo)

ST. PAUL -- Dean Johnson’s first job after being re-elected a University of Minnesota regent Wednesday night was rushing to the state House chambers to thank lawmakers who voted for him.

The ex-politician knows the importance of maintaining relationships.

“I know 90 percent of these folks,” the former state senator said about lawmakers.

Even so, the Willmar resident said, “this is more difficult to me than it was last time,” because legislators tend to ask tougher questions of those in office than challengers. The election was for his second six-year term.

Johnson and Regent Chairwoman Linda Cohen were re-elected as at-large members of the university’s governing board during the Wednesday night joint House-Senate meeting.

Also elected were Abdul Omari, to represent students, and Peggy Lucas, a founding partner of Brighton Development Corporation and former member of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, from the 5th Congressional District in the Minneapolis area.

Regents are not paid.

Votes in all races were split among the winners, who were recommended by a House-Senate committee, and others who had applied for regents posts.

The vote largely was partisan, with Democrats who control the Legislature backing the committee recommendations. Johnson left the state Senate as a Democrat, although he started his legislative service as a Republican.

Although vote tallies were not immediately released, Johnson’s winning margin was larger than Cohen, who as chairwoman has been out front on issues such as what has been called administrative overspending.

For Johnson, Wednesday night was a homecoming of sorts after spending 28 years as a legislator. In the days leading up to the vote of the full Legislature, as the state Constitution requires, Johnson talked to as many lawmakers as he could.

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, stopped by to congratulate Johnson.

"I have never forgot what you did," she told him.

Legislators who said they would not vote for him told him they wanted more accountability from the university, he said.

“We get it,” he said, because the state provides 20 percent of the university’s budget.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.