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Mayo Clinic tie to UM Board of Regents may be lost

The battle for the 1st District seat on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents took an unexpected twist Wednesday, with one candidate dropping out and another jumping in.

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Dr. Claire Bender
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The battle for the 1st District seat on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents took an unexpected twist Wednesday, with one candidate dropping out and another jumping in.

Retired Mayo Clinic doctor Claire Bender withdrew her candidacy for the seat that represents southern Minnesota "due to personal reasons." She was one of two finalists forwarded to the Minnesota Legislature for consideration by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council.

Upon hearing the news Bender had dropped out, former Hayfield Republican Rep. Randy Demmer announced he plans to lobby lawmakers for a spot on the board even though he didn't win the council's approval.

"It's something I've thought about for a long time and think this is an opportunity now with the 1st District seat being open," Demmer said.

The Board of Regents is the governing body of the University of Minnesota and its five campuses, including the University of Minnesota Rochester. There are five open seats on the board that need to be filled this year, including the 1st District seat that had been held by Mayo Clinic Dr. Patricia Simmons. She is finishing her second six-year term and announced she wouldn't seek a third term.

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The remaining finalist for the seat is Grazix Animal Health CEO Randy Simonson, of Worthington.

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, chairman of the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, said he was extremely disappointed by Bender's decision not to run.

"I'm deeply disappointed," he said. "She's made a decision. I respect that. I was so happy and even excited when I heard she was going to apply. She got through the interview process with flying colors."

Bender sent an email to Rochester-area lawmakers yesterday notifying them of her decision and thanking them for their support.

"I want to assure you that I thought long and hard about the options. I spoke with colleagues, family and friends many times. The decision to withdraw was very difficult," she wrote.

There is a long history of people with Mayo Clinic ties serving on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Brede said this year some on the council pushed back against that idea, arguing no one from Mayo Clinic should serve on the board. He said that stemmed in part for Simmons having had to recuse herself from some votes.

Several on the regent advisory council also opposed the idea of having former lawmakers appointed to the posts. Demmer was one of seven candidates who applied for the First District seat but was not among the four granted an interview. Other lawmakers who applied for seats on the board this year failed to advance as finalists.

It's worth noting that while the regent advisory council does forward candidates for Minnesota lawmakers to consider for the board, there's nothing in the law that requires the Legislature to stick to their recommendations. In the end, a joint convention of the Minnesota Legislature determines who is appointed to the board. Making this year's vote even more interesting is the Legislature's partisan makeup — there's 101 Democrats and 100 Republicans. A joint legislative committee is slated to interview the finalists forwarded by the regent advisory council on Tuesday.

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Demmer said being a former lawmaker shouldn't automatically disqualify him for a seat on the board. He left the Legislature five years ago after a failed run for the 1st District congressional seat. His background includes having served 11 years on the Hayfield School Board and 30 years in business.

He said he has always had a tremendous interest in education issues and would like to play a role in crafting policy at the university. He is a business manager with Construction Ventures in Winona and a University of Minnesota graduate.

"I understand that being on a board is not the same thing as doing legislative work, which is partisan," Demmer said.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he was saddened to hear Bender was dropping out of the race. He got to know her when he worked at Mayo Clinic and said she would have been a tremendous asset for the university.

He added there has long been a sense it's important to have someone on the Board of Regents from the Rochester community with ties to Mayo Clinic. He noted Mayo Clinic's close relationship with the university dates to 1915, when the Mayo brothers helped establish the university's graduate school of medicine.

"There's always been this really tight-knit relationship between Mayo specifically, moreover Rochester recently with UMR," Senjem said. "So I don't think we're being really selfish about the importance of having a local connection to the university and a local regent."

Related Topics: DAVE SENJEM
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