McCollum, Klobuchar hold public events despite Arizona attackby Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio,
Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Two Minnesota members of Congress held public events on Monday, saying they won't scale back interactions with constituents after the attack on a congresswoman in Arizona over the weekend.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar was touring towns across northwestern Minnesota on Monday, and Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum opened her office to allow constituents to sign a card offering condolences to the victims of the attack.
The incident on Saturday outside a grocery store left six people dead and critically wounded Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It raised questions about how to ensure security as members of Congress hold public events.
Like most members of Congress, Klobuchar travels without security and says she has no plans to change that. She also said she won't change her schedule after what happened to Giffords.
"You can't serve the people by sitting behind a closed door in Washington. That's just not how it works. You have to be out there," Klobuchar said. "I've gotten some of my best ideas from being in Minnesota," she said.
Klobuchar met with farmers at a cafe in Ada, with faculty at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, and also planned a tour of a Bemidji manufacturing plant. At the midmorning event in Moorhead, Klobuchar arrived with one staff person by her side. No police or campus security was evident.
On Tuesday, Klobuchar will visit seven towns in north-central Minnesota.
A VISIT FROM TEA PARTY SUPPORTER
In St. Paul, McCollum has now asked U.S. Capitol Security to evaluate safety at her district office, which doesn't have metal detectors or the same mail security as the Capitol offices do.
Nevertheless, McCollum added a public event to her schedule on Monday, inviting constituents to come to her office during a four-hour window to sign a card offering condolences to the victims of the Arizona shootings.
"We have encouraged people to go online and express support but some people wanted to drop things off or drop by the office," McCollum said. "I'll take the things that people sign today when I leave for Washington tonight."
A subdued group of people filed into McCollum's office over the noon hour. Amanda Yanchury, a former intern with McCollum's office who came by to sign the card, said she's concernd about her colleagues, who may now come to work feeling apprehensive.
"There's always going to be the 'what if' now," Yanchury said.
McCollum also got support from an unlikely source: A constituent who's a persistent critic showed up Monday to say he may not agree with the congresswoman on much of anything, but he came to the office to tell her she's safe.
Jim McKie wanted to make the point that the tea party philosophy he supports is not to blame for the attack on Giffords. The West St. Paul resident says he carries a concealed weapon, though he left it behind to enter McCollum's offices.
"If she needs help maintaining a vigil, I'd be more than happy to stand in the crowd and look for people who aren't necessarily there for 'a visit,'" McKie said.
McCollum staffers exchanged glances with each other while McKie told reporters Americans need to be able to have a civil disagreement no matter how loud it gets.
But Klobuchar said there are times when angry rhetoric crosses a line. Like many members of Congress have said in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting, Klobuchar said she hopes the incident will cause everyone think about the words they use.
"People can be mad about a policy or an issue but when they personalize it or call people names and accuse them of not doing the right thing that's American, there are things where you know if you're sitting in the room that it crosses the line," Klobuchar said. "What I'm hoping is it will make people step back and discuss things in a little more of a Minnesota way."
Minnesota's members of Congress have received their share of threats. In 2008, vandals spray painted the homes of six members of the Minnesota congressional delegation. Klobuchar said she's received personal threats since her days as a prosecutor in Hennepin County.
Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison said death threats have been rare, but he said his office receives a "steady diet of highly-threatening, extremely hostile stuff" that arrives electronically or in the mail.
The threats and the attack on Giffords won't stop him from holding an event on Friday. Ellison said he's even naming it "Congress on Your Corner," which is what Giffords' called hers.
"We can't bow to the gun. We just can't do it. It won't be America if we do," Ellison said. "We want to be able to stand up and say we want to improve the level of political discourse -- that we want to make very strong statements expressing our passion but that we always understand that we solve our problem with persuasion and voting in America."
(MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this report. Gunderson reported from Moorhead, Minn.)
More from MPRHennepin Co. Sheriff talks about security for members of Congress
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Ellison, media experts discuss role of political speech
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Minn. delegation reconsiders safety after Giffords shooting
January 10, 2011
- All Things Considered, 01/10/2011, 5:43 p.m.
Sasha Aslanian is a reporter with MPR News' Twin Cities metro reporting unit.