Lawmaker’s motives questioned in AG inquiry

Last Friday, Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, made a motion at a Legislative Audit Commission meeting calling for an investigation into the employment issues surrounding the office of Lori Swanson, the state attorney general.

Simon withdrew his motion after 90 minutes of debate and an agreement by Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles that he would begin a preliminary inquiry on his own, without a directive from the commission. Simon, clearly going through some soul searching, noted that Swanson worked “three doors down from me” when both were in the AG’s office.

Now MinnPost has obtained an email sent Monday by Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, doubting the motives of Simon’s efforts.

Simon, in turn, is defending himself and said — without naming names — people are “engaging in character assassination.”

Hilstrom’s email was sent to a number of House members, and carried the subject line “In the interest of full disclosure.”

Hilstrom, a fourth-term lawmaker, notes that she is an intern in the law office of former Attorney General Mike Hatch, Swanson’s predecessor and ally.

“I have talked to Mike Hatch,” Hilstrom wrote. “I think that as long as Representative Simon spends his time talking about his time working down the hall from Lori Swanson, he ought to disclose to people the facts and circumstances under which he was transferred without his consent from the consumer division to the education division by Lori Swanson.”

Simon responded this afternoon, calling from the Capitol. “I’ve never been fired or demoted from a job,” he said. Messages left for Hilstrom have not been returned.

The appearance is that Hatch is defending Swanson to the point of dishing dirt on Simon, and Hilstrom’s email certainly had the whiff of a smear job. Further, the email has the effect of portraying Simon’s questions about Swanson’s office as so much sour grapes.

Speaker’s statement
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Keliher said in an emailed statement that “this was a misunderstanding between two lawmakers that has since been resolved.”

Simon was clearly still stinging this afternoon.

“When I was in the [AG’s] office, it was a regular and common occurrence for people to be shuffled when the need arose,” said Simon, adding that he indeed was transferred sometime in 2000. “I think the implication that my transfer years ago to another division makes me a disgruntled employee is absurd and makes it look like [they] have something to hide.”

Simon pointed out that there were several other members of the Legislative Audit Commission who shared similar questions about Swanson’s tenure. It also should be noted that some lawmakers have been calling for an inquiry into the AG’s office for nearly a year, and Nobles did decide to investigate on his own.

As for his relationship with Hilstrom, a fellow DFL House member and presumably an ally, Simon is relatively lenient, given that she questioned his character publicly to several colleagues. In other words, his disappointment is reserved for whatever machinations Hatch and Swanson may or may not have going.

“I’ll say that Representative Hilstrom and I have discussed it and resolved our differences,” Simon concluded. “And I still have respect for her.”

 

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