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Republicans struggle to put Michel complaint behind them

Sen. Geoff Michel consulting with his attorney

MinnPost photo by James Nord

Sen. Geoff Michel consulting with his attorney at Friday's Ethics Committee hearing.

If state Senate Republicans were hoping Friday’s floor debate on voter ID would drown out the ethics hearing on Sen. Geoff Michel, they were mistaken.

It’s becoming the trademark of how the majority caucus has handled fallout from the affair between former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and former Senate GOP communications director Michael Brodkorb. Any attempt to put the scandal behind them creates more buzz and raises more questions.

The hearing into the complaint that Michel deliberately misstated when Republican leaders acted on the affair stumbled from the start. Republican Chair Michelle Fischbach tried and failed to convince the panel’s two DFLers that Brodkorb’s pending lawsuit severely restricted Michel from disclosing many details. Instead, under sharp questioning, Michel, Fischbach and Republican Bill Ingebrigtsen were forced to dodge and weave, leaving the impression they were clouding instead of clearing the air.

After a nearly three-hour debate, the committee deadlocked on whether to dismiss the complaint, filed by Sen. Sandy Pappas, or find probable cause to proceed with an investigation. The plan was to reconvene after the Senate debate on the voter ID amendment.  But Fischbach, with her DFL colleagues waiting in the hearing room, canceled the meeting via a news release with the promise that action would be taken “within 30 days of receiving the complaint.”

DFLers were steaming.

“The only action that is legitimate to adjourn the committee” has to come with a vote, said DFL committee member Kathy Sheran. “Senator Fischbach has no authority to unilaterally change that.”

Sheran said that during the Senate floor debate Fischbach had approached her and fellow DFL committee member John Harrington about not reconvening so Fischbach could get more information about the legal boundaries of the case. “But her timeline for meeting again was too vague,” Sheran said.  

Pointed questions

The hearing’s outcome may have been unavoidable. DFLers had pointed questions: How many staff members had complained about the affair? When, specifically, did Michel confront Koch? And who in Senate human resources was consulted?

The answers to those questions could be important in a wrongful termination lawsuit Brodkorb may bring. Republicans stated at the outset that the potential lawsuit limited their responses.

But ultimately, unless the hearing is never reconvened, the ethics committee will have to come to a resolution. Because the even partisan split is designed to produce a bipartisan conclusion, a decision will require the patience and the strategy of a chess game. But Republican leaders in both houses have indicated they want the 2012 legislative session to conclude as soon as possible.  

Michel characterized the ethics complaint as “just part of the game of politics.” In noting the DFL timing of the complaint, he observed there was no point in addressing a scandal in January when you can keep it going until March. 

And into April. The DFL minority still has a few more weeks to turn the fizzled hearing into a political opportunity. At a minimum, they can ask when, and if, the hearing will be rescheduled. Even more likely, they can call for a ruling on the procedural dispute.

As Republican Ingebrigtsen lamented during the hearing: “It’s all dragging us through the mud even further.”

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Comments (6)

They came to the meeting unprepared?

Preposterous. Brodkorb went public with his claims well before the hearing was scheduled. Does the Republican chair really expect us to believe it hadn't occurred to her to seek counsel before the hearing. The choice is between incompetence or hubris, thinking that the matter could be swept aside immediately on a partisan vote. It's the people's money in play; we deserve to know who knew what, when and what they did with the information.

It is very simple, really.

Michel lied. No doubt about it. Evidence there in his own words.

He could end this thing very simply by standing in the Senate and apologizing for making misleading and/or false statements. He could say that he did it with good intentions but that he now realizes that it was a mistake.

So why won't Michel do this? Is it ego or stupidity?

And he is not running for re-election, so what would the harm be? The last pol that had to apologize was Dean Johnson, who is now a Regent at the University of Minnesota.

Apparently a heart-felt apology is not fatal in Minnesota politics. But stubbornness, arrogance, and dishonesty may be.

Right now you would have to conclude, as a right wing wag recently declared: "the Republican Party really is the Stupid Party."


The crux of the matter to me

As Mr. Hamilton indicates, it's OUR money at risk in the lawsuit. Now, I should think that if Michel didn't confer with and report to HR and didn't encourage Sheehan to do so -- we taxpayers should be off the hook. He and his cohorts went rogue and decided to treat it as a political matter instead of an employment matter. A competent lawyer should be able to make a pretty convincing argument that such actions strip them of any "professional capacity" shield they may be entitled to as legislators, that taxpayers are NOT responsible for any monetary settlement, and that the parties involved and the Party involved are the entities that need to pony up.

Momma Always Said

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when at first practice to deceive.

Sen. Michel and his caucus appear to be quite entangled.

Who is paying

For Michel's attorney? Can the Republicans get some sort of a group discount?

It's who they are.

The Republican Party of Minnesota has abandoned all pretense of openness and honesty. A $2 million GOP accounts deficit, including $100s of thousands in fines for dishonest reporting, is revealed only by accident, after a party insurrection. Senator Senjem declares the Senate "a family" and promptly slashes $1/2 million from the DFL caucus budget, then presides over the electoral lynching of Commissioner Ellen Anderson.

A party that campaigned on jobs focuses on everything but jobs. Republican legislators struggle to rationalize amending the constitution, with no factual justification. Republicans tweet lies about DFL peers from the Senate floor, refer to teachers as "gestapo," call President Obama an "arrogant black man," and stalk female acquaintances with a loaded gun.

The Koch-Brodkorb affair, the Michel cover-up, and the Senjem/Fischbach cover-up of the cover-up are the iconography of Minnesota's Republicans. The GOP can't shake this scandal because scandal is the very essence of the Republican Party of Minnesota.