ST. PAUL — Minnesota House Democrats voted to expel Rep. John Thompson from their caucus Tuesday night, Sept. 14, citing “credible reports of abuse and misconduct” and Thompson’s “failure to take responsibility.”
The exceedingly rare move has no impact on Thompson, who represents St. Paul’s East Side, still holding office. Such a bid to oust him from the House may yet come, but that’s not what Tuesday night’s drama was.
Thompson’s expulsion from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor caucus amounts to his fellow liberals booting him from their ranks and makes it unlikely he will chair a committee — or perhaps even sit on one — or carry much influence anytime soon.
In other words, Thompson’s peers essentially told him: We don’t want you on our team.
Thompson has been under pressure from top Democrats to resign from office ever since media reported in July details of past allegations of physical violence toward women. Thompson, who has never been convicted of domestic abuse, has repeatedly opted not to publicly address numerous specifics of the allegations, though he has remained defiant and refused to step down.
Tuesday night’s caucus meeting was held behind closed doors.
The caucus’s top two Democrats, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, issued the following statement:
“Rep. Thompson’s actions, credible reports of abuse and misconduct, and his failure to take responsibility remain unacceptable for a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. It would be best for Rep. Thompson, his family, and the institution for him to resign. In the absence of a resignation, the Minnesota House DFL has voted to remove Rep. Thompson from the caucus.”
Thompson appears to have known it was coming.
On Tuesday morning, he released a statement via social media that initially referred to his “expulsion,” though that word was later removed.
The statement, which ran about a dozen paragraphs long, carried similar themes to his previous statements, emphasizing the difficulties of living as a Black man who only sought advocacy in 2016, after his friend Philando Castile was killed by a St. Anthony police officer.
When it came to the specific allegations of violence against two separate women, he avoided specifics. Here’s part of his statement:
“Currently, some are saying because of the past allegations against me that I am not fit to serve in this legislative seat. The fact is, I don’t have a hateful bone in my body for anything other than the blatant racism that is being displayed all over the world and that some play as though it does not exist. Allegations about something that allegedly happened to me twenty years ago does not disqualify me from doing my job today. As a matter of fact, it only gave me strength to fight harder and help transform the communities I am fighting for.
“Have I made some bad decisions in the past? Yes.
“Have I been through the storm and back? Yes.
“Am I a passionate and vocal Black man? Yes.
“I did not run for office to talk about my family or put our past — true or false — front and center, but now I have no choice. The fact is I promised my wife when I ran for office that I would not put her through being in a spotlight in any way when it comes to our personal business. We can’t undo that, but we have had to seek additional mental health professionals for our children because of the slander that they see about us in the media and (spread) about on social media outlets.”
Allegations of violence
Thompson found himself under the spotlight after he was pulled over for driving without a license July 4 and said he was the victim of racial profiling. The most recent political problems have come not from the driving-related issues, but from past accusations that he has physically abused multiple women.
A review of Minnesota and Wisconsin court records show Thompson has never been convicted of domestic abuse. He has been arrested, charged or listed as a suspect in six incidents involving alleged violence toward women between 2003 and 2011 in Wisconsin and Minnesota, according to public records located by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Several of those cases involve statements made to police by Lee Thompson, the lawmaker’s current wife. In an impassioned statement on the steps of the state Capitol in late July, Lee Thompson unequivocally denied that Thompson ever harmed her, though she only addressed one of the incidents, and she didn’t respond when asked how to reconcile the statements of two pedestrians who told police they saw Thompson strike her outside a Superior, Wisconsin, grocery in 2003.
Neither she nor Thompson addressed a 2004 Eagan police report in which police say she told officers, in a recorded statement, that Thompson threw her against a table, which broke; that he choked her to the point where she couldn’t breathe and was close to passing out; and that he dismantled the telephone during the final of three attempts she made to call 911. Parts of that account were corroborated by a child who was present, according to police reports.
The police file contains photographs of a woman, images reviewed by the Pioneer Press, that show marks along the base of her neck. According to those police reports, Thompson denied the events happened as alleged.
But for many lawmakers, such detailed allegations, while unproven in court, have proven to be untenable for Thompson, a first-term lawmaker who gained a reputation as a Black Lives Matter activist.
Fellow lawmakers respond
Many of Thompson’s fellow lawmakers of color have been publicly quiet since his scrutiny began. On Tuesday, six of them issued a joint statement that didn’t say whether they supported or opposed the expulsion but instead spoke to the plight of Black families, including domestic violence.
“While we do not condone the allegations concerning Rep. Thompson’s actions, this could have been an opportunity to find accountability in a way that seeks redemption and transformation,” the statement read in part. It was issued by Minneapolis Reps. Aisha Gomez, Esther Agbaje and Hodan Hassan, and St. Paul Reps. Athena Hollins, Fue Lee and Jay Xiong. The six do not constitute all the House lawmakers of color.