Senate GOP taps Sviggum as communications chief

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 16, 2012 - 8:17 PM

Veteran legislator will help Republicans navigate legislative shoals.

Steve Sviggum
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Steve Sviggum

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Minnesota Senate Republicans have selected former state House Speaker Steve Sviggum as the caucus' new executive assistant and communications chief.

"Speaker Sviggum served with credibility and honor for many years," said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, who asked Sviggum to apply for the position. "This unique opportunity gives us the ability to capitalize on Steve's experience, knowledge of the press, successful decisionmaking skills, and relationships he has created over many years of service."

In his new post, Sviggum will help the Senate GOP navigate the legislative session and broker deals with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and House Republicans. He is likely to find himself in the middle of the politically dicey push to build a new Vikings stadium. An initial critic of taxpayer-funded stadiums, Sviggum was House speaker when the Legislature approved a new ballpark for the Twins.

Sviggum, 60, is a stark change from the sometimes combative Michael Brodkorb, a seasoned GOP operative who was fired from his post last month after his boss, Sen. Amy Koch of Buffalo, abruptly stepped down as majority leader after admitting to an affair with a male staffer.

Sviggum, from Kenyon, is widely seen as a collegial, folksy dealmaker who managed to hold together an often unruly House GOP caucus for eight years.

After leaving the most powerful position in the House, Sviggum was tapped by then-Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to become commissioner of labor and industry. He also served as Minnesota management and budget commissioner in the waning weeks of Pawlenty's term.

Sviggum credits Senate Republicans for "managing Minnesota very well," including helping to wipe out a $5 billion deficit last year. "The Senate Republican majority is definitely moving our state in the right direction; this is an exciting opportunity," he said.

Sviggum plans to remain a member of the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents and serve out the rest of his six-year term.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said he's troubled that Sviggum plans to stay on as a regent of the taxpayer-funded university.

"I'd be very surprised if it's not a conflict of interest to take a paid position with the Legislature," said Bakk, DFL-Cook. "If it's not a conflict, it certainly seems inappropriate."

Linda Cohen, chair of the Board of Regents, said she doesn't immediately see a conflict, but that the board ought to be "cautious and very careful" about Sviggum holding both positions.

Last year, Sviggum was at the center of a conflict-of-interest inquiry for his roles as a regent and a paid fellow at the university's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. In April, he resigned from the Humphrey School.

Sviggum will earn $102,000 a year; Brodkorb was making about $90,000 when he left.

Staff writer Jenna Ross contributed to this story. Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288

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Steve Sviggum