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Ruling bars Sviggum from governor race

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

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

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

The ruling bars Sviggum from campaigning for political office. But the Kenyon Republican 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 (campaigning)," he said.

The federal Hatch Act restricts political activity for employees of states and counties or of municipal executive agencies connected with federally 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 comprised 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 Health Administration grant.

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

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

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

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

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

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