'Curveball' suspends Sviggum campaign
RED WING, Minn. -- Steve Sviggum's path to the governor's mansion may have hit a roadblock.
The Department of Labor and Industry commissioner's oversight of OSHA may qualify him as a federal employee -- a group forbidden to run for public office.
"This was a curveball out of leftfield," the former House speaker and Kenyon Republican said Thursday. "I'm kind of suspended right now."
While organizing his campaign, Sviggum was informed that his OSHA association might constitute federal employment, he told the Republican Eagle Thursday.
Sviggum said he contacted the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General, who he said confirmed the assessment in an "over-the-phone ruling."
He would not say whether the predicament might cause him to leave his post in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's cabinet.
"It would be a difficult thing to do right away," Sviggum said, noting that he had intended to step down possibly by February, when campaigning typically intensifies.
University of Minnesota-Morris political science professor Paula O'Loughlin said stepping down is the most likely alternative.
"Other politicians certainly have faced this conundrum he's faced and have figured out ways," she said, noting that the dilemma is an uncommon one.
A spokesperson from the Department of Justice -- which houses the Solicitor General's Office -- declined to comment on implications of the Hatch Act.
According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the federal Hatch Act restricts political activity of some state and local employees who work in connection with federally funded programs.
O'Loughlin said the Hatch Act seeks to prevent "double dipping" into public coffers.
Sviggum said he has sought an advisory opinion from the Solicitor General's Office and expects to hear back within a week. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, oversees workplace safety.
He said the initial opinion took him by surprise and now leaves his campaign in limbo.
The former state representative had intended to announce his candidacy in mid- to late-July.
"It has put my decision somewhat up in the air," he said.
O'Loughlin pegged former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman as the top Republican in the gubernatorial field, should he decide to enter. She said Sviggum "is probably in the next tier."
Pawlenty, a Republican, appointed Sviggum to the post in 2007.
The governor announced in June that he would not seek a third term.
A call to Pawlenty's spokesman was not returned.
Mike Longaecker is a staff writer for the Red Wing Republican-Eagle, a newspaper owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns the Bemidji Pioneer.