Four Minnesota Senators took testimony and debated the complaint against freshman Republican Scott Newman for about five hours today before dismissing allegations that he had a "pay to play" policy for meeting with constituents and others.
Newman, of Hutchinson, was the subject of complaints by DFLers Sandy Pappas, Scott Dibble, Ken Kelash and Ron Latz. They stemmed from a Jan. 20 staffer email that said he wouldn't meet with a representative of the Minnesota Nurses Association because they'd supported his opponent last November.
Newman called it a mistake by a new and inexperienced staff member, his legislative assistant Kim Kelley.
"I did not author that email. It was without question stupid," Newman told the committee. "I also want you to understand that I am dealing with a legislative assistant who at that time had two weeks on the job. She is very young. She has never worked down here before. So I find myself in a predicament, where on the one hand, I can't say I authored or endorsed that email because that's not true. But at the same time, as soon as I say that, I throw her under the bus... She made a mistake. That's all it is."
DFLers at the hearing, though, seemed to be after bigger fish, suggesting that Kelley's response to a routine meeting request looked like something more deliberate and systematic than a brand-new legislative aide would think up on her own.
"I'm glad that Senator Newman did not get charged," said Kelash, one of the complaintants. "The point of this was never to find him in violation. The point was to find where the policy [came from] that a new staff person would put in an email like this... Obviously, we would have appreciated the committee just agreeing to find out where it came from and how it got in the email in the first place."
But the most interesting testimony came not from the Senate, but from Newman's lawyer, former legislator Fritz Knaak. He told the committee that the email, on its face, simply wasn't a violation of Senate rules.
"If you have people that are not your political supporters, that are your opponents -- who's kidding who?" Knaak asked. "Of course, it is unlikely that that person is going to be treated in the same manner by your staff as other will. I'm not suggesting anybody needs to be rude, but c'mon, the fact is, that's the way it works. And that's the way it operates in a political institution. Nothing in Senate rules precludes that, or should it."
The committee apparently agreed in a closed-door executive session that it wasn't a violation and voted to dismiss the complaints. Members included Republicans Michelle Fischbach and Bill Ingebrigtsen and DFLers Linda Scheid and Kathy Sheran.
Takeaway lesson, for that Rookie GOP Legislative Assistant (who apparently kept her job)? "It's ok to do it; just don't SAY you're doing it."
I noticed that Newman said it was "stupid" but not that it was wrong.
If the excuse is the assistant's inexperience, why is he hiring such an inexperienced legisative assistant? We're paying that person's salary, and I object to paying for someone who's not qualified to do the job.
But I don't believe that's the reason this happened. It's just not something an assistant would come up with on her own.