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Job prevents Sviggum from governor bid

RED WING, Minn. -- Steve Sviggum's gubernatorial cam-paign is on indefinite hold.

The Department of Labor and Industry commissioner said Wednesday that a U.S. Office of Special Counsel deci-sion handed down last week prohibits him from seeking the Republican endorsement for governor.

"I have a hole in my stomach the size of Lake Mille Lacs," the former House speaker said in an interview with Forum Communications Co.

The ruling bars Sviggum from campaigning for political office. But the Kenyon Repub-lican hinted that he might be free to campaign in the future, a move that -- at this point -- could only be allowed if he left his post.

"That's today -- it doesn't mean that six months from now I couldn't be (campaign-ing)," he said.

The federal Hatch Act re-stricts political activity for employees of states and coun-ties or of municipal executive agencies connected with fed-erally financed programs.

According to an Aug. 10 letter issued by the Office of Special Counsel, the Department of Labor and Industry receives federal grants from three sources. About 4 percent of the department's budget is com-prised of federal funds.

The letter also notes that department officials reported about 8 percent of Sviggum's salary comes from a federal Occupational Safety and Haz-ard Administration grant.

"Based on the preceding," U.S. Office of Special Counsel attorney Mary K. Larsen wrote to Sviggum, "we have con-cluded that you have duties in connection with a federally funded program and are cov-ered by the Hatch Act."

Sviggum sought the opinion after first being alerted to the issue in July, when he had intended to launch his cam-paign.

Asked Wednesday if he would consider stepping down from his post in order to re-sume campaigning, Sviggum said he had given it thought.

"You weigh all the choices we make and the conse-quences," he said. "I cannot make the choice to not serve as commissioner today."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty ap-pointed Sviggum to the post in 2007. Sviggum said he last spoke to Pawlenty about the Hatch Act issue in July.

Mike Longaecker is a staff writer for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper, which also owns the Bemidji Pioneer.