Former Biden appointee and nurses union president will join U of M Board of Regents

As of next month, all 12 of the regents who govern the U of M will have been elected by DFL-majority legislatures.

Board of Regents
Newly-elected University of Minnesota regents Mary Turner, left, and Robyn Gulley stand in the House gallery Monday to thank legislators. Both Turner and Gulley are union organizers and will join the 12-member governing body at the U of M next month. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

The president of the Minnesota Nurses Association — a one-time appointee of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Health Equity Taskforce — has been elected to serve on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.

Mary Turner, an ICU nurse at North Memorial Medical Center, has led the nurses union since 2015. Last fall she helped lead a strike of more than 15,000 nurses across the state as they negotiated with hospital employers for higher wages and what they described as workplace safety improvements.

On Monday a joint legislative session of the state House and Senate elected Turner, of Plymouth, and three others to six-year terms on the 12-member Board of Regents for the state’s land grant university. Turner will serve as the regent representative from the Third Congressional District.

Others elected by legislators to the Board of Regents include AFL-CIO training specialist Robyn Gulley (District 2), of West St. Paul, and attorney and current regent Tadd Johnson (District 8), of Duluth. Medical doctor and former Allina CEO Penny Wheeler, of Orono, was also elected to serve in one of the at-large seats on the board. Their new terms will begin next month, as the U of M is beginning its search for a new president to replace Joan Gabel, who announced last month she was leaving university’s top job to become chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh.

All 12 U of M regents elected by DFL majority legislatures

As of next month, all 12 U of M regents will have been elected during joint sessions in which DFL members outnumbered Republicans. Outgoing regents Darin Rosha and Steve Sviggum were elected during legislative sessions in which Republicans had a majority of legislators in the joint session.

The Minnesota constitution requires both the House and Senate elect regents as one joint body. While the governor can appoint temporary replacements when a regent resigns, the legislature has the sole authority of electing regents to complete terms.

A labor voice at top of U of M leadership pyramid

Turner, who will represent the Third Congressional District on the board, represents a big swing in the politics of the Board of Regents. She replaces outgoing Third District regent Darrin Rosha, who chose not to seek a new term. Rosha was elected by a Republican majority House and Senate in 2015 and again in 2017.

Last year, as MNA president, Turner helped lead the largest private-sector nurses strike in the nation. In September, 15,000 nurses in Minnesota held a three-day strike over what they called unfair labor practices in their hospitals. They also sought a wage increase. Later that fall they voted to strike a second time before the union reached a new contract agreement with hospital employers in December.

Following that strike, Turner was quoted in a December 2022 story published in the Minnesota Reformer as saying she knows how to make the other side like her during labor negotiations, but has “no problem drawing a knife if she has to.”

“I can smile at them in the meeting and crucify them in the press. That’s power,” Turner told the Minnesota Reformer.

Legislators from the House and the Senate convened on the House floor Monday for a joint session to elect four new members to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Regents serve six-year terms. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

Turner’s election comes as the legislature is controlled by the DFL by a 70-64 margin over Republicans in the House and a 34-33 margin in the Senate. She received 108 of 201 possible votes from among the House and Senate members during the joint session. Five of those votes came from Republicans.

Last month she received an endorsement from a joint legislative Higher Education Committee on a party-line vote over former Gophers football player and businessman William Humphries. During the full joint session on Monday, Humphries was nominated from the floor by Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, and received 98 votes, all of those coming from Republican legislators.

In an interview with legislators last month Turner said she wants to ensure that Minnesota residents aren’t paying more in tuition at the university than out-of-state residents. She also wants to help the university increase diversity among the student population.

While returning regent Tadd Johnson was elected with no competition from candidates nominated on the floor, newly-elected regent Penny Wheeler narrowly won after two rounds of voting over U of M student body president Flora Yang. In the first round, Wheeler and Yang both received 98 votes. In a second round of voting, Wheeler received 101 votes to Yang’s 98. Two DFL senators, John Marty of Roseville and Clare Omou Verbeten of St. Paul, cast votes for Yang.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.