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Ex-Swanson aide didn't like what she saw in AG's office. So she offered to tell her story

Attorney General Lori Swanson
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Attorney General Lori Swanson speaking to reporters about her candidacy for Minnesota governor.

After some of the comments on some of my previous pieces about Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson's tenure in office criticized me for criticizing Swanson, a woman who worked in the AG's office during Swanson's first term offered to tell me her story. Here it is.

The Rev. Linda McEwen, who worked as a Lutheran pastor during much of her career, was hired to work in the AG's office not long after Swanson was elected to her first term.

She didn’t like what she saw. It ended badly. 

McEwen, who is now mostly retired and lives in Mahtomedi, was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1979, when female ministers were still relatively few. She considers herself a proud feminist.

In 2006, when Swanson became the first woman attorney general in Minnesota history, McEwen says, she was gladdened that another portion of the glass ceiling had been broken. At that time, McEwen said, she had recently retired from a pastoral position and decided to apply for a position with the new AG, and she was soon hired to be Swanson’s executive assistant. Her job included managing Swanson’s calendar and her professional contacts and arranging meetings, including those with legislators.

But, McEwen says, she was disappointed to discover that Swanson relied almost completely on Mike Hatch, her predecessor and political mentor, in running the office and deciding about matters that arose. Hatch, who had just been defeated in his own run for governor, had stayed on (somewhat awkwardly and controversially) in the AG’s office under circumstances that suggested that he was still exerting a lot of influence if not outright control. 

“It was embarrassing,” McEwen said. Legislators and other officials who had business to discuss with the AG’s office would come in to see Swanson, and she generally wouldn’t even take the meeting. Instead, McEwan said, Swanson would buy time, try to find out indirectly what the legislators wanted, or have Hatch call them to find out, and then he would decide how to respond.

“She’s an intelligent woman,” McEwen said of Swanson, who is now a candidate for governor. “But she didn’t have the confidence to respond face-to-face to people who needed her to make a decision.”

“It was strange,” McEwan told me.

McEwen pushed back a bit, then a bit more, and when her attitude about the not-very-secret role of Hatch as the major decision-maker in the office became too obvious, she was fired, in her third year on the job.

Like a lot of others who have worked in the office during the Hatch-Swanson era, McEwen decided to go quietly for fear of retribution if she criticized them publicly.

But when she read my story of last Friday about some of those related issues, she reached out to me to put her recollections on the record, for attribution. She seemed unafraid, at this stage in her life, and ready to make her experience public, even as Swanson launches her campaign for governor.

It’s important to note that McEwen has been gone from the office for many years and can’t comment on the current status of the Hatch-Swanson relationship, or on how Swanson ran the office after she left.

Perhaps, she said, it’s become an equal partnership over the years. But she felt that Swanson’s development as a strong, independent political player was “hampered” by her reliance on Hatch. “She hasn’t taken the lumps to learn how to fly alone,” McEwen said. “She has always had this copilot.”

“I feel sure I was terminated because I started questioning some of their methods,” McEwen said, referring here to the way they treated their subordinates. “They operated by fear and punishment, and they often tried hard to get people to quit so they wouldn’t have to fire them.”

Sometimes she found herself in the middle of these efforts to induce resignation, which struck her as both cruel and a waste of taxpayer dollars. For example, she said, they would give someone a pointless mind-numbing assignment, of no value to the citizens of Minnesota (who were paying the salaries of all the attorneys) and not related to any real work of the office — like reading through hundreds or thousands of pages of files looking for something that wasn’t there. The results of the work in some instances would just be shredded, McEwan said.

Her understanding was that these methods were designed to send the message to the workers or attorneys involved that they had fallen out of favor, would not be getting any advancement or interesting work in the future, and that they should look elsewhere for a job. The treatment would be “pretty obvious” to the person undergoing it, and it often worked, she said.

In her own case, McEwen said, Swanson did fire her. She said Swanson’s desire to be rid of her had become “pretty obvious,” but she didn’t resign. So Swanson called her in and terminated her. She recalls that when she received her walking papers, she sarcastically replied: “Are you sure you don’t want to call Mike and ask if this is what he wants you to do?”

Over the last several days, I have reached out, by online message and by phone message, to the Swanson for Governor campaign and the AG’s office, seeking to give Swanson a chance to comment on this story. So far, no reply. 

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Comments (27)

AGO Swanson

Such sour grapes...Lori Swanson is an intelligent competent woman who doesn't need the have her hand held by a man..

Comment

With all due respect Jean you don’t know what you are talking about.

Swanson and Hatch

So, the attorney general seeks guidance from the prior attorney general? A politician seeks advice from her political mentor? A low-level employee didn’t think the work she was assigned was important? I fail to see the problem.

I think Swanson was a fine attorney general and not someone I’m supporting for governor (that is, I have no particular loyalty to her) but this is straight up trash.

You are better than this, Eric.

I wish

I wish we could like these comments. Spot on Pat. Spot on. Thank you.

Please define low level employee

"Her job included managing Swanson’s calendar and her professional contacts and arranging meetings, including those with legislators."

This looks a lot like someone who was in a position to know what going on in the AGs office.

Low level employee

I have a person who manages my calendar and meetings at work. She’s my secretary. She does a fantastic job and I consider her a good friend, but she doesn’t have the faintest idea about the substance of the legal work I do, nor would she claim to.

This woman was an “executive assistant” which seems to be more or less the same thing. She’s not an attorney. She’s not in management. She scheduled meetings like my secretary does.

So, no, this woman is not in a position to know what is going on at the AGs office. Not even remotely. Because she is not an attorney or manager. She is administrative staff. That is what I mean by low-level employee.

If she had written a piece about Swanson being mean to the staff, she would have been in a position to make that statement. But to write about the merits of the work being performed or the input from the prior attorney general is pure nonsense. There is no foundation for those statements. Because she was a low-level employee.

Underresearched

One person's "hand holding" might be another person's "mentorship". Either way, terminated employees generally don't have very nice things to say about the people who terminated them; I would have thought that to be common knowledge.

Hmmm...

Terminated "executive assistant" who worked for Swanson many years ago decides to "go on record" about...what? Very disappointed in Minnpost for trying to pass this piece off as some sort of validation of Mr. Black's previous article. It had the opposite effect.

"Mind Numbing And Pointless"? Not So!

As a consultant/contractor to the Office of the Attorney General I am very disappointed in Ms. McEwan characterization of some of the work there as "pointless and mind numbing" and a "waste of taxpayers dollars". To assist in putting together compelling cases, sometimes I have spent many hours reading through documents to identify patterns or specific instances where fraud or misrepresentation or other unlawful actions were committed.

While it may appear to an administrative assistant who does not understand the work to be a "pointless mind-numbing assignment, of no value to the citizens of Minnesota. . . reading through hundreds or thousands of pages of files' to build cases is in fact a valuable and necessary step to protect Minnesota consumers and businesses. And sometimes, the assignment is actually to "look for something that isn't there" because what isn't there is a key element of the case.

Both Attorney General Swanson and Hatch have put the interests of Minnesota citizens at the top of their agenda; that they work together from time-to-time is a strength not a weakness of that relationship.

I don't recall

…previous pieces that were critical of Swanson, though there may be some – perhaps many. Be that as it may, this has the whiff of sour grapes from Ms. McEwen. I'm not likely to become acquainted with either woman, and have never met either one, but find it hard, nonetheless, to avoid the feeling, when I read McEwen's complaints, that a decade and more is a long time to hold a grudge over getting fired, even if the grudge is justified. It's far too early for me to make up my mind about the numerous gubernatorial candidates, so I intend to discard this and wait for more contemporary news.

“She has always had this copilot.”

It seems Mr. Black had a copilot in writing this article - a disgruntled fired employee.

Correct Ron

She never once states the official reasons for termination, just what she believes the “real” reason for termination. It seems Black has intentionally left that part out, or intentionally did not ask the question.

A rare

bipartisan reaction.

Workplace environments

How many of us have complained about the boss and/or top management because of decisions they made or didn’t make? Anyone is manages people is subject to the complaints raised in this article. In short, this is a story that doesn’t deserve to be printed.

Thanks

Thanks for this expose. I contacted the AG office several times between the years 2000 to 2006 regarding nursing home issues, and got no satisfaction whatsoever. Now come to find out that nursing home residents have consistently been neglected and abused. Dayton's Commissioner actually resigned over this.
Now Lori Swanson jumped into the Governor's race last minute and chose sulfide mining promoter Rick Nolan as her running mate. We can see where this is going to go. Welcome PolyMet, Twin Metals, Teck Resources, and polluted water.
Minnesota voters need to wake up-- quickly.

How is any of this relevant?

Lori Swanson was sworn in as Attorney General on January 2, 2007. Why are you talking about your unsatisying contacts with the Attorney General’s office from 2000 to 2006 when Lori Swanson was not the Attorney General?

The commissioner who resigned over the nursing home issue was from the Department of Health. Nothing to do with the Attorney General’s office. So why are you bringing up an issue that has nothing whatsoever to do with Lori Swanson?

Finally, it seems like you don’t like some of Swanson’s political positions. Unlike your other points, this actually does involve Lori Swanson. But it has nothing to do with the allegations made by this former employee.

A Hatchet Job - and not from Hatch

Someone from the ministry might be a little shocked at how lawyers chose to operate, but on the lawyer bad behavior scale this is pretty mild stuff. Was there any impact on the cases that were or weren't brought, the kind of abuse we see with our US Attorney General? Was anyone personally cashing in by "you scratch my back I'll scratch yours?" as we see with Trump. Were there two standards of justice? Hatch busted large healthcare organizations for denying emergency care and charging patients bills they did't owe - looking out for the small guy. Tough but fair.

Let's return to Christian teaching, where Jesus takes people to task for criticizing others without looking inward - judge not that you not be judged. Making this criticism in the middle of a campaign to me seems timed to submarine a campaign based on a very weak case..

There'd be a real easy way to dispel all this

Supposed rumor and or innuendo. Don't seem to see Swanson (or Hatch) stepping forth to clear the air. Don't expect we will, after all, there seems to be no end to those willing to step forth to extol the virtues of both, and revile all those opposed. Strange that it seems to fit the very pattern being detailed, don't ya think?

Don't think so

You can't win by trying to counter unsupported allegations.
You just give them credibility.

Exactly

There is nothing to be gained by dignifying this kind of trash.

Sure you can

We aren't talking about Republicans duping their base here, the audience is Democratic primary voters, who usually have more than a vested interest in the details. One needn't make it a personal rebuttal to THIS particular claim. Just go to a friendly media outlet (put down the pearls, we're all adults here), and do an "In Depth Look, Lori Swanson" or some such pap. Make sure to address the broadest thrust, that this is Hatch's show, with personal assurances from the man himself, or even just a "heartwarming" recounting of the wonderful "mentorship" he's provided MANY (special emphasis) up and coming politicos. This is PR 101 here. That not even so simple a strategy has even been ATTEMPTED speaks volumes to me at least, about just how much fire lies beneath the smoke. It seems they'll be going with the bully ball approach, and hoping to find enough votes for the "fighting" platform. How they do anything but split the opposition to Murphy and ensure a Republican win is a mystery to me.

Eric Black, good work

Mr. Black, good work! DFL friends, with direct experience with Hatch and Swanson, confirm your reporting. In rather colorful language. DFL voters need to show the Hatch clique the door.

Moot point

Waltz is the best choice regardless of the accuracy of the story.

Walz is the best choice...

Because you say so? Clearly things are little bonkers over at the MNDFL so it behoove's us to explore the process and judgement of those who would tell us to vote for. The MNDFL does not enjoy a particularly successful record of gubernatorial success. Over the last 30 years they've gotten one candidate into the governor's office, and Dayton wasn't the candidate they wanted to run. So I think we have something to discuss here.

May Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan "waltz" to victory ...

Richard Bonde, Yes, sir. I agree.

Obviously something bizarre is going on

Clearly the MNDFL has some issues, and Swanson's behavior is inexplicable, she's not running, then running, then not running and running for something else. Hatch obviously has issues as well. While MCewen's may or may not be exaggerating her access to management behavior, these attacks on her character and perspective are without basis, because NONE of the attackers have ANY direct personal experience with the AG office.

We have but ONE "consultant" who has stepped forward with an objection to the idea that any work at the AG's office is mind numbing or wasteful. Given the fact that any organization of any size or significance entails some degree of mind numbing and/or wasteful work product, we can dismiss the consultant's perspective. And anyone with work experience knows that the work product consultants deliver isn't always particularly substantial, nor are recommendations provided by consultants, often at considerable expense... not always implemented. Paying for advice that's never followed is certainly one definition of: "waste". Likewise paying for advice that almost anyone in the organization could have provided... is another definition of: "Waste".

We also know that Ms. MCewen is NOT the ONLY person to voice some of these complaints, Mr. Black HAS reported on Hatch in the past. Anyone familiar with office environments, specially Government office environments knows that open or public criticism of executives and supervisors is extremely rare and strongly discouraged. In some cases it's actually illegal unless one resorts to filling whistle-blower lawsuits. The idea that any criticisms flowing out of involuntary dismissals can be dismissed as "sour grapes" is simply facile.

In the end simple procedural reporting that merely describes what's happening fails to inform or engage discourse on a substantive level. I appreciate Mr. Black's attempt to pierce the superficial membrane of procedural reporting and offer some explanations for WHY this bizarre situation has unfolded.

Like any other report or testimony, Ms. MCewen's account will tested and judged reliable or unreliable as we move forward. I see no reason to dismiss it out of hand as many here would have us do. And I would point out that those dismissing it out of hand here are not completely free of their own motives which could compete for integrity with Ms. MCewen's.

Political dirty tricks

Come on Eric Black, a disgruntled former employee who admits Swanson fired her 10 years ago, waits 10 years to "speak up" and only does so after Swanson enters the governor's race. This McEwen lady is one of Erin Murphy's top supporters and donated $2,000 to Murphy. Mr. Black, responsible journalism would dictate that you consider the source and not publish this garbage from a well-known top supporter of a competing candidate.