Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint on Monday against former Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel for his role in the aftermath of the Amy Koch scandal in December.
Sen. Sandy Pappas, who filed the complaint, wrote in it that the Republican “brought the Minnesota Senate into dishonor and disrepute” for failing to report that Koch was having an affair with staffer Michael Brodkorb and for lying to reporters about how long he knew.
Michel lost his post when the Senate GOP caucus chose new leaders. He has said that he will retire after this session. Koch stepped down as Senate majority leader and has since said that she, too, won’t run for re-election.
The ethics complaint is the latest in a series of PR debacles that have plagued the Senate Republican Caucus.
“I don’t really look forward to doing this, and if it can be resolved very quickly, I’d like him to do that, but I do think he owes us an apology,” Pappas said at a Monday press conference.
“There should be a public apology on the floor of the Senate for lying and for not providing due diligence in pursuing this issue when he first heard about it,” the St. Paul legislator said. “I just don’t think its appropriate behavior on the part of a sitting senator.”
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said the ethics complaint wouldn’t have been necessary if Republicans had responded to his repeated requests for an internal investigation. Bakk provided a private Jan. 12 letter he sent to Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem asking the new leader to look into “legal and ethical questions surrounding the events that led to Senator Koch’s resignation as Majority Leader.”
But Republicans rebuffed his requests as recently as last week, Bakk said.
Sen. Michelle Fischbach, chairwoman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct, has 30 days to hold a meeting on the matter. She told a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio that she didn’t know when it would happen.
Michel blasted the complaint in a statement on Monday.
“This is about politics and payback and has nothing to do with ethics,” he wrote. “The DFL wants a few more headlines. The conflict of interest has been resolved. The workplace environment has improved. And, we did this while protecting whistleblowers and staff. I have asked for an immediate hearing to resolve this matter.”
Senjem, who appeared to review talking points before addressing reporters, also defended Michel as “forthright” and “professional.”
“I think Sen. Michel was acting in a steadfast, judicious manner in a very, very difficult situation,” he said. “I think that will be shown through the process.”
Pappas asked two other senators to sign the complaint, but they refused “for various reasons,” she said.
Democrats want to know more logistical details about how Michel handled the affair and why he waited so long before revealing it.
Pappas also said she would “seriously consider” withdrawing the complaint if Michel apologized on the Senate floor and answered questions about what is contained in the complaint.
“I don’t know that I want that level of detail, tell me more than I need to know about that relationship,” she said with a laugh. “I just feel like you have a responsibility when you’re in leadership to take appropriate action when there’s inappropriate behavior going on.”
Both Pappas and Bakk said they don’t expect others – including Koch – to testify at the hearing, which might have to be held after the session has adjourned.
“Sen. Koch has already paid a significant price, I think, in her personal life, in her life here at the Legislature as a leader,” Bakk said.
A potential $500,000 lawsuit against the Senate from Brodkorb also complicates matters. Bakk said the Democrats don’t want to endanger the Senate in any way.
“We do not want this complaint to be any kind of a vehicle that puts the Senate in more liability than it’s already in,” he said.