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home : opinion : editorial
December 14, 2017

11/15/2017 10:06:00 AM
Enabling atmosphere

So it has come to this at our State Capitol in St. Paul.
At a time when one of the biggest complaints about political leaders is their inability to work together for solutions, we find that some Minnesota state lawmakers have been preoccupied with making other types of advances. In recent days, we've seen public allegations against DFL Sen. Dan Schoen and GOP Rep. Tony Cornish. Both have denied wrongdoing.
However, there have been other reports that leave the impression there is an enabling atmosphere that allows untoward behavior by people of power.
And, in Sunday's Star Tribune, readers learned that just after taking office in 2011, then-Representative Carly Melin received sexual harassment from one lawmaker while in the presence of another male lawmaker.
According to Sunday's Star Tribune, many women in state politics say there is "a long-standing problem of mistreatment by some men in positions of power - from degrading comments to overt sexual overtures to groping, or worse."
Most of us are probably not surprised that sexual harassment exists at the State Capitol. Deep down, many of us could have guessed that this sort of thing happens and has been occurring regularly, down through the years.
However, that does not make it acceptable. And, if highly suggestive texts have occurred while the full body was in session - as has been alleged - we all ought to be furious.
These are our leaders.
These are people who spend their days telling constituents they are doing everything in their power to help our state. These are people who unload their war chests full of advertising funds at campaign time, leaving the impression they are laser-focused on solving problems and making Minnesota a better place.
If the allegations are true, we can safely say that some lawmakers put sexual harassment on the front burner once they are elected to office. Those pledges about focusing on making Minnesota great?
All of this undermines an already fragile relationship between Minnesota constituents and their elected officials. That's unfortunate because there are many, many outstanding lawmakers who truly care about the people they represent and would not come within a million miles of sexual harassment or any other type of deviant behavior.
The good lawmakers must work that much harder to gain the trust of the people. And, in many cases, gaining that trust is virtually impossible.
And, let's not forget the damage this does to the work at hand. Assuming sexual advances have occurred in and around the Capitol, how does that affect voting?
In 2011, when Rep. Melin of Hibbing was working hard for an Iron Range project, could the fact that she refused a lawmaker's advance cost her a vote?
This is not just a messy problem for state lawmakers, it can affect key decisions and quickly erode public trust. Minnesota lawmakers need to quickly get a handle on it and make sure that our elected officials are held to a higher standard.
    - Rahn Larson

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