In a surprise move, the Legislature on Wednesday night elected Ken Powell, the chairman and CEO of General Mills, to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, ousting incumbent Thomas Devine.

The lawmakers also voted to return former House Speaker Steve Sviggum to the board after a five-year absence and re-elected two current regents, David McMillan and Darrin Rosha, to six-year terms.

Devine, a Chanhassen insurance executive, lost his bid for re-election after serving as a regent since 2012.

The House and Senate members met in special joint session to fill four seats on the 12-member university governing board.

All of the winning candidates but Powell had been endorsed by a legislative panel Feb. 7.

Powell, of Golden Valley, was nominated from the floor Wednesday night, along with five others — including two former governors, Arne Carlson and Tim Pawlenty. Powell won the at-large seat for the board.

Powell, who has worked for General Mills since 1979, has been its chief executive since 2007 and chairman since 2008.

He was one of a dozen candidates for regent who had been endorsed in January by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, an advisory group that screens applicants.

Powell was not one of the four finalists picked by a legislative panel earlier this month. But the lawmakers are free to nominate candidates from the floor.

Sandra Krebsbach, the former mayor of Mendota Heights, also was nominated as a late entry on Wednesday night, but she lost to Sviggum for the seat representing the Second Congressional District.

A history on the board

Sviggum, 65, who was originally elected to the board in 2011 for a six-year term, served just one year until he resigned in March 2012 under pressure in a conflict-of-interest dispute.

At the time, he had started working as communications director for the Senate Republican caucus, which many viewed as a conflict for someone in a regent's chair.

Sviggum said he no longer has that job, adding that he now works on his family farm in Kenyon.

Surprise endorsement

Of the four finalists selected by a legislative panel Feb. 7, Sviggum was the only one who had not formally applied for the job.

He won a surprise endorsement that day when members of the House and Senate higher education committees met to choose their favorites.

Sviggum, who also served in the Legislature for nearly 30 years, said he was approached in January — he would not say by whom — about the possibility of returning to the board. He said he was surprised and pleased to learn he had made the final cut.

McMillan, an executive with Minnesota Power from Duluth, and Rosha, an attorney and medical office manager from Independence, won re-election for the seats representing the Eighth and Third congressional districts, respectively.

McMillan, who is now vice chairman of the board of regents, has served on the board since 2011.

Rosha, who is general manager and corporate counsel for Crutchfield Dermatology in Eagan, will technically be starting his third term as a regent.

He was first elected as a student from 1989 to 1995, and was elected again in 2015 to a two-year term to replace David Larson, who died while in office.

On Wednesday, Rosha won a full six-year term.

Although the regents are unpaid, there's often vigorous competition for seats on the 12-member board.

The formal selection process began in December, when 35 people submitted applications to the Regent Candidate Advisory Council.

Twelve finalists

The council interviewed 17 candidates and forwarded 12 names for consideration to the Legislature in January.

The Legislature elects four members of the Board of Regents every two years. The returning members include three women and five men.

Some legislators complained privately about the lack of diversity among the finalists, who are all white men.

That may be an enduring issue. Student leaders at the university raised similar concerns in letters to state lawmakers this month, according to the Minnesota Daily.