Gov. Mike Leavitt has announced this year's crop of Board of Regent appointments and it appears he has not used the appointments as a reward for loyal political service.

Board of Regent appointments were at times an issue during last year's gubernatorial campaign. Both Republican Richard Eyre and Independent Party candidate Merrill Cook criticized what had been, in some cases, appointments to the prestigious board that had a political flavor.The 15-member board is one of the top plums the governor has to award. While the part-time board members don't get much money, they oversee the state's public colleges and universities, are treated like kings and queens when they visit college campuses and generally have high standing in their communities.

Aides close to Leavitt, who himself was appointed to the Board of Regents by former Gov. Norm Bangerter, a close political and personal friend, say Leavitt was determined to make careful choices with the regents.

Regents serve six-year terms. Like appointing the wrong person to the district or appellate courts, a mistake in a regent appointment can last a long time.

Leavitt, who himself may have been a beneficiary of the old-boy appointment process in the past, seems to want to break with that tradition now.

A number of eyebrows were raised among lawmakers and lobbyists earlier this year when Leavitt, a Republican, made his first appointment to the board - an appointment to fill his own seat left vacant when he was sworn in as governor.

Some thought Leavitt would appoint former House Speaker Nolan Karras, a Roy Republican who considered running for governor last year before stepping aside for Leavitt. Karras ultimately co-chaired Leavitt's campaign and then headed Leavitt's transition committee.

Karras neither sought nor was disappointed about not getting the first Regent appointment. (Leavitt named a woman from the private sector who had little to do with his campaign). Karras continues to serve as head of the state's building board, a position he accepted under the Bangerter administration. Leavitt aides say a Karras appointment would have sent the wrong signal. It's possible Karras could be considered later, should he want to serve on the board.

In appointments announced this week, Leavitt chose to reappoint three Democratic Regents. No great surprise here - all are well thought of. But if the governor wanted to make major shifts in the board, the appointments this June were critical, for he needs every one to shake up a large board whose members serve six-year terms.

Political pay-backs don't seem to be a part of these decisions. Oh, one could argue that Regent Dale Zabriskie, a public relations man/lobbyist who is a Democrat, didn't hurt himself any by forming a committee called Democrats For Leavitt during last year's gubernatorial race. But if Leavitt were really looking for change on the board, he would have swept all of the Democrats and many of the Republicans out of their posts this year.

View Comments

Because he did reappoint three Regents for new terms this time around, Leavitt was determined to get about as much as he could from one new appointee. By picking Larzette Hale, a retired Utah State University professor, as a new Regent Leavitt got four birds with one stone.

Hale is a woman, and some say more women should be on the board. She is an Afro-American, and some say more minorities should be on the board. She's a university faculty member, and some argue more higher education professionals should be on the board. And she's from Logan, and some argue there should be more Regents that reside out of Salt Lake County and off the Wasatch Front. Like I said - four with one throw.

Leavitt also broke with another tradition in the latest appointments. There will not be a general authority of the LDS Church on the board - at least not after this round of appointments. For years, since the board was formed in 1969, one seat has traditionally gone to an LDS general authority. Leavitt said he and others in his administration worried that the "perceived" tradition of giving a seat to an LDS Church leader could lead to a lawsuit by "separationists" - those who seek to take all hints of religion out of public institutions.

So, Leavitt has made his first appointments to the Board of Regents. It appears he didn't pay back any political favors, he increased the number of women and minorities on the board and managed to keep some familiar faces on as well.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.