Minnesota GOP sex scandal case causes political hazard
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A fired aide's lawsuit tied to a Minnesota Senate sex scandal means the episode will echo throughout the campaign season, creating a political hazard for majority Republicans and a delicate situation for Democrats, too.
Michael Brodkorb sued Monday over his dismissal, which came after the senior GOP communication adviser's affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch was revealed last December. Even before the wrongful-termination case wound up in court, the Senate had already spent $85,000 on lawyer fees related to the firing.
Despite Republicans' desire to move beyond the scandal, the top GOP senator is vowing to fight the lawsuit rather work toward a negotiated settlement. The case was assigned Tuesday to Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann, an appointee of former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
While no initial hearing date has been set, the state and other named defendants have a few weeks to file a written response to the claims. Witness depositions also lie ahead. Brodkorb's lawyers say they intend to look into allegations of other Capitol affairs where those involved kept their jobs, hoping to make the case that he was treated differently.
So, as Republicans gear up to defend their narrow majority, there will be regular reminders of a serious ethical lapse in their upper ranks.
"It certainly doesn't help to have this story front and center in any way as we move into the fall election cycle," said Carl Kuhl, a GOP consultant.
Some Republicans privately realize the situation is especially problematic for a party that aggressively promotes family values.
But many of the main players in the scandal aren't campaigning for new terms. Koch, who relinquished her leadership post last winter, is leaving the Legislature after this term. She plans to vouch for some of Brodkorb's claims, her lawyer said. Two senators who confronted her about the affair are also giving up their seats after this term.
Democrats have their own considerations in using the affair in their bid to retake the 67-seat Senate. Minority Leader Tom Bakk told The Associated Press that dwelling on the affair negatively affects the public's view of the Senate as an institution.
"At this point, I don't see that whole sex scandal playing into any kind of campaign message on the part of the DFL caucus," Bakk said. "But if (Republicans) continue to want to spend taxpayer money on this, that's fair game."
As costs began to mount for the outside attorney hired by the Senate GOP, Bakk urged Republicans to set up a private defense fund. Senate GOP leaders said they wouldn't.
Minnesota law presumes the state will cover expenses, attorney fees, fines and settlements for public employees facing litigation connected to their jobs, as long as they weren't willfully neglectful or guilty of malfeasance.
Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, a Republican from western Minnesota, said as the expenses escalate, so will voter anger.
"Sitting here three hours from the Capitol, it's frustrating that one penny of taxpayer money is being spent essentially messing around with a soap opera," he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.