Issues from scandals to stadiums marked week at State Capitol

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol Reporter

Senate Republican leaders were tight lipped on Friday, March 16 about the flare up this week between attorneys for former Senate Republican communications director Michael Brodkorb and Senate officials concerning Brodkorb’s allegation that he wrongfully was fired from the Senate.

Former Senate majority leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, pictured outside the Governor's Office last summer during budget talks. Behind Koch, to the right, is former Senate communications director Michael Brodkorb. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Brodkorb, through his attorneys, revealed that he had an intimate relationship with former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, while working as a Senate staffer.

For her part, Koch, who resigned her leadership post last December, admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer — she’s never named the individual.

Brodkorb is demanding damages in excess of $500,000 for the alleged illegal dismissal.

Filing of a notice of claims by Brodkorb’s attorneys with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and Senate attorney Dayle Nolan had Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman later issuing a statement charging that Brodkorb’s claims were without merit.

Indeed, Ludeman accused Brodkorb of attempting to disrupt the work of the Senate and “extort” a payment.

Brodkorb’s attorneys answered the next day, charging Ludeman had issued a “false and defamatory statement.”

Philip Villaume, representing Brodkorb, went on to use words like “smear” and “lie” in describing the content of Ludeman’s statement.

He further suggested the statement had come as a shock — Villaume said Nolan had been receptive to the idea of mediation. But Nolan, in response, said her investigation and the claims made by Brodkorb and his attorney led her to conclude there had been no wrongdoing.

But Villaume said that Brodkorb, who did not appear with his attorneys at a March 15 press conference in St. Paul and is not expected to give interviews to the media, from the start made plain his willingness to file suit if efforts at mediation failed.

Since the potential lawsuit would be based on the premise that Brodkorb had been treated differently than other staffers and legislators engaged in adulterous affairs, explained Villaume, it would be necessary to take dispositions from these individuals.

“We as attorneys don’t threaten,” Villaume said.

The next step in the process, Villaume said, will be a filing with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging gender discrimination.

Republican leaders had little to say about developments.

“It is what it is,” said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester. “If you’re standing in our shoes, you focus on the session.”

Senjem downplayed the importance of the matter.

He styled possible legal actions as  a “sidebar potential lawsuit.”

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the Senate was a employer. And as with businesses facing similar employment disputes, the Senate would continue its work.

“So that’s what we’ll do — continue with our business,” she said.

Although Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, spoke of a bad week in the Senate — legislators doing “nothing but damage” to the institution they have a duty to respect — he said the Brodkorb developments were not a distraction.

Bakk suggested that Ludeman’s assertion that all Senate employees are “at will,” or subject to termination at any time, was correct. “I think the Senate will prevail if Michael Brodkorb files a suit against the Senate,” he said.

On the Vikings’ stadium bill, Senjem, who will see his racino legislation go before a Senate committee on Monday, March 19, said that he had no intention of trying to insert racino into Sen. Julie Rosen’s stadium bill.

“Let’s not wander away from Senator Rosen’s plan,” he said.

For now Rosen’s bill will remain in Chairman Ray Vandeveer’s Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, Senjem said. The bill had a hearing this week in the committee, but Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, tabled it.

Vandeveer said afterward there weren’t enough votes on the committee to pass the bill.

Technically, stadium legislation is facing committee deadlines.

But Bakk suggested deadlines and finality in terms of bills in the legislature don’t set church bells to chime.

“Nothing is ever dead around here,” Bakk said.

Bakk styled perceive ultra caution stadium bill authors took in crafting their bills as excessive — the legislation should have appeared weeks ago, he explained.

“I signed the (stadium) bill jacket without reading a single sentence in that bill,” said Bakk, coauthor on Rosen’s bill. The important thing is the bill number, Bakk said.

The guts of the bill can be worked out in committee, he explained.

For his part, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he would later indicate his stance regarding the stadium bill and

legislative deadlines.

“I think it’s way too early to talk about that,”  Zellers said when asked whether missing an imminent policy deadline would end the stadium initiative this year.

Zellers suggested the greatest challenges facing the stadium initiative weren’t committee deadlines but problems within the legislation.

He expressed concern the charitable gambling provision in the bill would fail to generate needed revenue and state general fund dollars would be used to fill the gap.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, (left) on March 16 that meeting legislative committee deadlines was one of the lesser problems facing the Vikings' stadium initiative. House Tax Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, stands next to Zellers at a Capitol press conference. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Zellers suggested stadium advocates test the legislature’s temperature in regard to passing a stadium bill.

“Has anyone asked the governor or the advocates of the bill how many votes they have in committee or on the (House) floor?” Zellers asked.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in a Friday meeting with the ECM Editorial Board said he personally didn’t consider the charitable gambling provision as ideal. Still, it was “the only option left standing,” he said.

“He’s very frustrated,” Dayton said of Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf. He said the owner has been roughly handled in the stadium debate.

“If people want to say ‘No,’ that’s one thing,” Dayton said. “I don’t think he (Wilf) deserves vilification.”

Dayton had a quick answer when asked what the next step would be in the stadium push if legislators passed nothing this year.

“Next year,” he said.

Further, in such a scenario, the Ramsey County Arden Hills’ stadium proposal would be alive.

“No, not all,” said Dayton when asked whether that proposal would be dead. “They did everything right,” he said of Ramsey County officials.

On other matters, Senjem indicated the Senate was looking for a “signal from the House” in deciding the next step for the so-called Right

to Work proposed constitutional amendment, carried by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.

Zellers was vague in discussing the proposed amendment’s chances in the House.

Senjem said the Senate would pursue school funding shift payback legislation similar to House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo’s payback bill, passed by the House this week.

Ortman, who noted the Senate had handled some 240 bills this week, styled the proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment “one of the highest priorities” for Senate Republicans.

Ortman said the Senate, like the House, will have a focus on reducing commercial/industrial property taxes in its tax bill.

She is chairwoman of the Senate Tax Committee.

But Ortman added that “very substantial” differences existed between the Senate and House tax bills.

Unlike the House, the Senate will not look to reducing the renter credit as a means of raising revenue, Ortman explained.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton indicated today the best approach to picking an official state mammal might be through a contest. First graders at Andover Elementary School in Andover are pushing to have the black bear given the title. (DNR photo)

“I don’t believe there’s any support in the tax committee or Senate as a whole,” she said of such an approach.

Commenting on an initiative in Andover — the push by Andover Elementary first graders to get the black bear named the state’s official mammal — Dayton said the best method of determining which state mammal wins such a distinction would be through a contest.

Area lawmakers are carrying black bear bills for the first graders.