‘The price for being loud’: What Lindsey Port lost after her #MeToo moment

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Within weeks, several prominent DFL donors who had pledged to support Lindsey Port's second campaign for a seat in the state House withdrew those pledges, which were for a total of $6,000.

Less than six months ago, Lindsey Port was a rising star in Minnesota’s Democratic party: a well-respected DFL candidate for the state House who also ran a growing nonprofit that supported others seeking elected office.

Last week, Port suspended her campaign for the Legislature, and she is struggling to keep her business alive. She’s lost critical allies in her own party and tens of thousands of dollars in donations. “I realized that I wasn’t even getting my calls returned anymore,” Port said, sitting in her Burnsville home.

It has been a dramatic turn, and Port said she knows exactly what changed: “This is the price for being loud.” 

Accused of ‘softening the ground’ for Franken’s ouster

In November, Port and several other women, including DFL Rep. Erin Maye Quade, became the first people to talk openly about experiencing sexual harassment in state politics. Port spoke about her experience at a 2015 DFL campaign event, when then DFL state Sen. Dan Schoen came up from behind and grabbed her, telling her she had a good “door-knocking ass.”

Her story became part of the growing #MeToo movement, which encourages women to share their stories of sexual harassment, and initially there was an outpouring of support for Port and the other women who had come forward. By the end of the year, Schoen and Republican Rep. Tony Cornish had resigned from the Legislature, after more women spoke out about repeated and unwanted advances from the two legislators. 

“It wasn’t about any one story,” Port said. “We had the power to speak publicly in this moment, when it’s necessary for women to share their stories, and a lot of women feel like they can’t for a lot of reasons.”

But things changed in December, Port said, shortly after Democrat Al Franken said he planned to resign from the from the U.S. Senate. Eight women publicly accused Franken of unwanted kissing and groping, and he was pressured by nearly three dozen of his colleagues in the Senate to step down. Yet many Democrats, in Minnesota and beyond, felt Franken was unfairly pushed out of office before an independent investigation could look into the women’s allegations.

Port was not one of Franken’s accusers, but she was the woman most closely associated with the #MeToo movement in Minnesota. After Franken resigned, Port noticed the tone toward her changed on social media and at DFL events. People started suggesting Franken’s accusers were paid to take him down, and before long, Port said she was being accused of being paid as well. Some people even argued her own story “softened the ground” for Franken’s eventual ouster, she said.

Within weeks, several prominent DFL donors who had pledged to support her second campaign for a seat in the state House withdrew those pledges, which were for a total of $6,000. They also withdrew support from Port’s nonprofit, Blueprint Campaigns, which supports Democratic candidates for the state House. In all, Port said she lost $70,000 in pledged donations to the nonprofit, which amounts to the operating budget for an entire year. One donor who rescinded a pledge told Port that it was “too controversial” to support her at this time, she said. 

She suspended her second campaign for a competitive Burnsville-area House district and recruited someone else to run in her place: Alice Mann, a family doctor who lives in the district and immigrated from Brazil. Mann will challenge Republican incumbent Rep. Roz Peterson this fall. 

“I know that this is likely to probably end my political career, at least for the time being, in Minnesota,” Port said. “And that sucks, but it feels like this is a necessary part of the story to keep telling.”

Mostly, Port said she’s worried women in politics who see what’s happening to her will be even less likely to speak out about their experiences with harassment than they were before.

“I’ve talked to a lot of women in politics, and there are a lot more stories about a lot of different people,” she said. “Knowing now what’s happening, and feeling like I’ve been blackballed and there are these economic repercussions, those women don’t feel like they can speak out.” 

A message that’s been lost

Across the nation, the #MeToo movement is at a critical juncture. It started with dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but it quickly swept up other major industries and powerful institutions. Media men like Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose lost their jobs after years of harassment of women who worked for them. The controversy also focused on state legislatures and Congress, places that had been sitting on decades of pent-up stories of widespread sexism and harassment. U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. resigned after allegations that he sexually harassed former employees, and then Franken.

But as the movement continued — and grew in scope — many women feared that a backlash was inevitable. Several prominent columnists have decried the movement, saying it’s gone too far. Longtime Democratic Party donor Susie Tompkins Buell recently told the New York Times she is considering withdrawing support for senators who urged Franken to resign. That includes many of the female politicians she had long championed, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren.

“We started noticing this turn, that first started on social media and DFL Facebook groups,” Port said. “Suddenly people who were talking about supporting women and believing women were now talking about how these women were liars and how they know how this was just never something [Franken] would do, so this must be some big conspiracy.”

Amid the continuing debate over #MeToo, Port said she also feels that part of her message is being lost. She’s one of several women who have repeatedly called on Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders to establish an independent task force on sexual harassment that would include experts and professionals outside of the Legislature who regularly deal with issues of harassment in a workplace setting. That task force would establish recommendations on how to create a transparent way to handle, report and discipline sexual harassment in politics. Part of the breakdown with Franken, Port said, was that there was no clear process in place to handle an investigation of the allegations against him. 

“Should there be different consequences for the Roy Moores of the world and the Al Frankens of the world? Absolutely, but we don’t have a process that does that right now,” she said. “We need it, and at this moment there wasn’t another option for Democrats other than to draw a line and say, ‘We have to stand with the women. This has to be our line in the sand.’ ”

For now, Port will continue on with BluePrint Campaigns throughout the 2018 election. The nonprofit is currently working with eight House candidates in suburban, urban and rural districts. They work with candidates who might not find the campaign process easily accessible — namely women, minorities and transgender and LGBTQ candidates who are underrepresented in state politics. She said there is a way to change the culture of the Capitol from the outside, by recruiting and bringing more women and new faces into politics. Port and her business partner, Meredith Stacey, are now looking outside of state networks to try to find funding to keep operating into the next year. 

“I think it’s important, as we move forward to remember that this isn’t about any one person, one resignation, one cost. It’s time to have a broader conversation about the costs of both silence and speaking out, and what we are willing to accept as a society,” Port said. “It’s frustrating for me to feel that often gets lost in the particulars of high profile stories, in this case one that I had literally no connection to aside from unfortunate timing. I’m turning my focus to the future, to how we can change the culture so my daughters aren’t fighting this same battle.” 

Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 01/18/2018 - 10:30 am.

    This is nonsense

    Bring on the reckoning. Driving away a new generation of activists is going to seriously damage DFL prospects going forward.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2018 - 01:39 pm.

    Now We Know!

    Democrats have an unusual opportunity to take control of one or both houses of Congress, and to ensure that President Trump is not re-elected in 2020. The question on many minds, of course, has always been “How will they mess this up?”

    That question has been answered: By letting resentment over the treatment of Senator Franken override everything else. Progressive Democrats nationwide will line up to punish other progressive Democrats for their “betrayal.” Never mind that the Party has (belatedly*) recognized that freedom from sexual harassment is an essential part of gender equality. No, loyalty to one of our own takes precedence over principle.

    I don’t want to relitigate the matter of Senator Franken’s resignation, or what brought it about, except to say the line between substance and process can be an elusive one. It’s time to look forward, and focus on the victories that can be won. The consequences are more of the “governance” that we are experiencing now. Is it really worth more of the same to teach Senator Gillibrand a lesson?

    *Dear Republicans: Yes, Bill Clinton should have been brought to account for what he did. Yes, it was wrong to defend or minimize his conduct, even at that time. Yes, he should have shown the good judgment to have his dalliances with porn stars who would accept hush money. Happy?

    • Submitted by Alice Gibson on 01/19/2018 - 08:02 am.

      Resentment over Franken’s treatment overrides everything else?

      Nah, it just means means Rebecca Otto, Erin Murphy, Kirsten Gillibrand and their ilk will find the rest of us supporting their opponents for endorsements and nominations at every opportunity. Too bad about Lindsey Port. Apparently she became collateral damage when the #MeToo-ers went a bridge too far. Sort of like how Al Franken became collateral damage in their rush for purity. Karma is funny that way.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/19/2018 - 02:30 pm.

        And Then What?

        “Nah, it just means means Rebecca Otto, Erin Murphy, Kirsten Gillibrand and their ilk will find the rest of us supporting their opponents for endorsements and nominations at every opportunity.” Suppose they prevail, and win nomination? Are you going to continue your protest, and let Trump win re-election, or let whoever the Republicans nominate take the Governor’s Office by default?

        That’ll show ’em.

        • Submitted by Alice Gibson on 01/20/2018 - 09:24 am.

          Suppose they prevail, and win nomination?

          Rebecca scored 9% in the Strib poll published yesterday, and Erin got 6%. I’m not so worried about the looney lefties prevailing this time. Democrats are starting to figure out that, if they are going to start winning again, they need to enlarge their tent. As for President Trump, my guess is he’ll be lucky to serve out one full term.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 01/18/2018 - 01:48 pm.

    I thought the Democrats were all about

    #metoo. Now I learn they throw the poor lady who was abused under the bus. Sounds like hypocrisy to me.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2018 - 02:31 pm.

      Hypocrisy? It is to Laugh!

      I don’t think Republicans–the party that spent so much time touting traditional “family values” and yammering on about the sanctity of marriage–are in any place to talk about hypocrisy in these matters.

  4. Submitted by Barbara Dennis on 01/18/2018 - 02:09 pm.

    Make contribution?

    How can I make a contribution to Lindsey?

  5. Submitted by Laura Tabolich on 01/18/2018 - 06:34 pm.

    Link for contributions to Blueprint Campaigns

    Ms. Dennis (and anyone else) here is the link I used to make a contribution: https://www.blueprintcampaigns.org/donate/

  6. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 01/19/2018 - 03:09 am.

    The punishment must fit tge crime.

    Garrison Keiollor has been ruined by MPR for a single reported event, which sucjs, , as the event was perhaps not even rightly sexual harrasdment. I trust Keillor more tvan his anonymous accuserd, who gain by his fall. i don’t blame women for reportimg, but MPR will have to really turn it around for me to support them.

    Franken asked for his day in court. You may believe his accusers,, but people are presuned innocent until proven guilty. I am skeptical iof the first victim, as she is pictured grabbing man’s butts and kussing then without warning, but the problem lies with those who had a career reason tio dispose of Franken, a potential Presidential candidate. Did Franken do anything close to Trump? if course not. Gillleland wanted and got his scalp, For me, with that she ceased being the kind of public servang we nedd fir president.

    And tven there is Trump. That he has said and done terrible things toward womem and not faced a cinsequences show that the punushmemt needs ti fit the crime. He is the worst of the worst of tge guys who don’t kudnap and murder tgeir buctims, and every day he raises in office empiwered sexual harassmsnt and assault. Mueller needs to brimg sex into tge investigation, juzt as Ken Starr did witgb Ckintomans Trump needs to testify under iath.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/19/2018 - 11:57 am.

      Our Object All Sublime

      “I trust Keillor more than his anonymous accuser, who gains by his fall.” How doe she gain? Her continued anonymity would seem to work against her on that score.

      When you disbelieve the “anonymous accuser,” you are choosing to believe Keillor’s word over her (and MPR’s) continued silence about the details. You have his version of what happened, but know nothing of what the month-long investigation conducted by MPR revealed. If I were a betting man, I would bet it’s something serious to prompt MPR to get rid of its big money-maker, but we may never know.

      “Franken asked for his day in court.” And then waived it, possibly because he realized the ensuing process would be a world-class distraction. I was, and remain, sorry that he has left the Senate. My understanding is the pressure to resign came after he could not say that there would be no more accusations against him.

      “Gillibrand wanted and got his scalp, For me, with that she ceased being the kind of public servant we need for president.” Senator Gillibrand has amassed a solid progressive voting record in the Senate. What should we do? Stay home and not vote? Cast our vote for a vanity third-party candidate, to show our disgust? Guess who benefits from that (hint: he has the most risible hair of any President since they stopped wearing wigs).

      “And then there is Trump.” Yes, God help us, there is Trump. Do you not see the problem with automatically believing his accusers, while dismissing the claims brought against good guys (one an excellent public servant, the other a glorified stand-up comedian)?

      • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 01/23/2018 - 11:24 am.

        Gillibrand

        “Senator Gillibrand has amassed a solid progressive voting record in the Senate. What should we do? Stay home and not vote?”

        Get a candidate who’s good on issues but won’t run a bus over somebody just because she gets a political itch.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/23/2018 - 04:55 pm.

          Let Me Know When You Find One

          “Get a candidate who’s good on issues but won’t run a bus over somebody just because she gets a political itch.” Anyone spring to mind?

          Senator Gillibrand has made fighting sexual harassment one of her signature issues. What would it have said about her had she remained silent about Senator Franken?

          • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 01/24/2018 - 03:35 pm.

            What it would have said

            That Gillibrand knows the difference between what Sen. Franken did and what sexual harassment or worse is.

            It also would have said that she can run for President without pandering.

            She may have done good work, but so did Franken on women’s issues as well as many other issues. Why cut her slack and not him?

    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 01/24/2018 - 10:47 am.

      The Keillor example is apt

      We now know, of course, that it wasn’t a single incident with Keillor (and anyone who really believed that MPR would cut ties with their signature performer over one incident the way Keillor described it should contact me for a lucrative real estate opportunity!). The common thread here is that the accused have consistently downplayed and minimized their behavior.

      As such, when Franken couldn’t give his colleagues any reassurances about the growing list of accusers nor offer any credible defense of the accusations against him, those politicians can’t be blamed for not wanting to link their political futures to his.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/19/2018 - 06:36 am.

    Harsh truths?

    As one who has been involved in many legislative campaigns over the years, this case raises some interesting and difficult questions. Would I be willing to support and candidate who puts a personal agenda, however valid, ahead of the interests of party?

  8. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/19/2018 - 07:37 am.

    Suddenly, leftists remember wearing a lampshade on their heads during last night’s virtue-signaling bacchanal, and are upset. Not because they looked foolish, again, but because someone took pictures and shared them around the office.

    It’s not hypocrisy; it’s something rather worse.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/19/2018 - 11:58 am.

      “Something Rather Worse”

      Overlooking the faults of their leaders, while criticizing others?

      You’re right, it is rather worse: they’re acting like Republicans.

  9. Submitted by John Deitering on 01/19/2018 - 09:05 am.

    The price for standing up

    I was among the people who were disappointed that Al Franken.resigned, and I did not feel he got a fair hearing. I never, never felt that was the fault of the accusers or supporters of “me too “. This is a terrible outcome for Ms. Port, and very damaging to our party. Either we believe in Justice or we do not. Lindsey is exactly the kind of candidate we want and need.

  10. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 01/19/2018 - 09:11 am.

    Thanks for writing this, Briana

    Go on-line and contribute to her non-profit, y’all!

  11. Submitted by Grace Kelly on 01/19/2018 - 10:05 am.

    Responsibility of Leadership

    We expect leaders to be responsiblie. Sheriffs and Cheifs are reponsible for their folks. Martin Luther King set standards and trained people in them. Staying quiet when injustice is done is not part of leadership. All of us have taken hits for political causes and what people under our leadership have done.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/20/2018 - 08:43 am.

      The Heart of the Matter

      That some Catholic priests and Boy Scout troop leaders abused children should not have surprised anyone, any more than a random bank robbery is a surprise. The real scandal was that in the case of the Scouts as well as the Church those leaders who were charged with stepping between the evil and the innocent enabled the abusers to continue without consequence.

      Those in authority who do wrong should be called to account, period. No one gets a pass, whether they can throw a football, pass legislation, or cast a movie. It’s a no-brainer that consequences should be proportional, that itself is another aspect of justice.

  12. Submitted by Mary Sweeney on 01/19/2018 - 01:06 pm.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right

    Briana Bierschbach is quoted as follows: “Should there be different consequences for the Roy Moores of the world and the Al Frankens of the world? Absolutely, but we don’t have a process that does that right now,” she said. “We need it, and at this moment there wasn’t another option for Democrats other than to draw a line and say, ‘We have to stand with the women. This has to be our line in the sand.’ ”

    I disagree. There WAS another option for the Democrats. They could have let the investigation of Franken go forward and used it as an opportunity to try to improve the process. If the process is bad, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to just automatically believe the accusers. In all of the uproar over Franken, I have seen very, very few concrete suggestions on how to improve the process of investigating sexual harassment allegations in the Senate or anywhere else. Improving the process should have been the focus of the debate; instead, it barely got mentioned, and that, I think, is rather telling.

  13. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/20/2018 - 08:49 am.

    Let’s Name Some Names

    Who are these people, I mean cowards, who have chosen to further afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable?

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/22/2018 - 10:57 am.

    This is simply an outrage.

    If this is how MN “liberals” and Democrats treat women, they can all go and get bent.

    The comment that really catches my attention here comes from Hiram Foster:

    “Would I be willing to support and candidate who puts a personal agenda, however valid, ahead of the interests of party?”

    Why would I be willing to support a party that’s riddled with sexists who have stalled women’s rights for decades? If the party is riddled with sexist the problem is the Party not the women who denounce the parties sexism… duh?

    This is why the largest group of voters in America now is independents who don’t affiliate with either party and this is why Democrats have lost so much support. What’s the point of keeping things “blue” if that’s the same as keeping things sexist, and racist, and dysfunctional?

    Democrats need to learn and learn decades ago that voters don’t give a rip about whether or not the “Party” wins, voters want VOTERS to win. For decades the Parties won and the voters lost no matter which party won, THAT’S how voters got desperate, frightened, angry, and frustrated enough to elect Trump. If you expect voters to put your screwed up sexist Party ahead of their own interests… you are doomed, pure and simple. We’ll find other people to vote for if Democrats don’t give us candidates we want to vote for… and this crap has me looking for other candidates. If you think I’m going to ignore your sexism just to get the “Party” elected… you are sorely mistaken.

    By the way… women are about 50% of the electorate… only a bunch of idiots would alienate or denigrate that group of voters.

  15. Submitted by Julie Kilpatrick on 01/22/2018 - 11:32 pm.

    Thank you Lindsey

    Thank you for your stamina and courage. Hang in there. I will call my reps about implementing the task force. All the very best to you.

  16. Submitted by Keith Webster on 01/25/2018 - 09:42 am.

    A Movement Weaponized by the Republicans…

    The metoo movement became weaponized by the right, and was used by the Republicans to gain an “unearned win”. I don’t think the Democrats, at least most of them, even realize what happened to them to this day. Kudos to the Republicans, I guess. They managed to use a well-meaning social movement of the left to remove one of their most hated Democratic Senators, without even an election.

    This was an unfortunate and unintentional side effect of the metoo movement. Franken’s first accusers were known right-wingers (the original was a friend of Sean Hannity). Later ones were “anonymous” and were filtered through left-leaning, well-meaning sites like Huffpost, whose attempts to look good to metoo-ers probably outweighed their judgement as to what was happening. The impression that there was a “problem” was created. Brilliantly played, Republicans. I am embarrassed that the Dems fell for this. It was, however, a trap of their own creation. My sympathy is with Port, too, as I don’t think she intended any of this to happen as it did. Her movement was used by some very savvy players.

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