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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Craig Westover's Column Raises a Firestorm

Craig Westover wrote an excellent column reporting on how Dean Johnson really stepped in it.

During a January meeting with Spicer-New London pastors, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, defended his view that because Minnesota has a "stringent" statute limiting marriage to one man and one woman, a Defense of Marriage Amendment is unnecessary. The gathered pastors, on the other hand, contended that court decisions overturning such laws in other states make the amendment necessary.

An honest disagreement, but this particular meeting is significant. On a digital recording, made by a pastor without Johnson's knowledge, Johnson says that although he could make "no guarantee," justices had told him the state Supreme Court would not hear a challenge to the marriage statute.

"Members of the Supreme Court, I know all of them. I've had a number of visits with them about our law. All of them, every one of them," Johnson said. He quoted (by name) a justice as saying "Dean, we all stand for election, too. We are not going to touch it (current law)." He generalized the response of other justices as: "Dean, we're not going to do this. We're not going to do this."

This got the strib to jump on the story.

I called Patricia Lopez when I read an earlier version of her story which followed up on Craig Westover's column criticizing majority leader Dean Johnson for claiming he had talked to Minnesota Supreme Court Judges.

She quoted me as "Eva Young, a DFL activist". I am NOT a DFL activist. I have been participating in Republican caucuses since 1998.

I've called Lopez and asked for a correction (to please correct the record that I am not a DFL activist). I will be following up with the Strib to make sure they do that.

This was the quote Lopez gave:

"Eva Young, a DFL activist who attended the December meeting at Bethlehem, said Johnson did say that Blatz had told him they would not hear the case, but "I didn't think about it at the time. Now that I think of it, that was a weird thing to say. On the other hand, people do have informal conversations. I think that's all this was."

I also told Pat Lopez that I had told Craig Westover about the Bethlehem Lutheran event about a month ago - and that Westover talks to Chuck Darrell regularly. I also said that it was interesting that the Pro-Family News article that Michael Brodkorb was talking about seems to be describing what Dean Johnson said in New London - and not what he said at Bethlehem. I just remember him discussing a conversation - which sounded pretty informal - that he'd had with Kathy Blatz. He didn't mention all of the judges. It's interesting that Pro Family News didn't cover this story until the March April issue for an event in December. I plan on asking Craig Westover if he told Chuck Darrell that Dean Johnson had made a similar statement at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. I think I may have commented about this on Craig's blog - and Chuck Darrell reads that blog. So the question is whether Pro Family News actually had a reporter at the December Bethlehem Lutheran Church event - and why they waited 3 months to report on it.

Lopez told me that Blatz has denied having that conversation with Dean Johnson.

Lopez said the Minnesota for Marriage is going to use this issue in advertising to try to get Dean Johnson to allow a floor vote on the marriage amendment. That's not the issue here. It is inappropriate for the Senate Majority leader to discuss an issue that is going to go before the court with a judge. The thing is - I can see how this could have happened - Dean Johnson and Katherine Blatz were good friends when they were legislators. I'm sure this has strained that friendship.

Chuck Darrell's comment is revealing:

Chuck Darrell, communications director for Minnesota for Marriage, said Johnson's remarks "compromised the dialogue, the openness about the marriage amendment. What he needs to do to rectify that is to simply allow the marriage amendment to come to the Senate floor for an open and honest debate."

Darrell would not comment on the possible role of the justices, saying only that "the justices don't have anything to do with getting the amendment to the floor."

Jeff Davis from Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage held a press conference:

Jeff Davis, of Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage, called for Johnson's resignation at a news conference on Wednesday, saying Johnson had "poisoned the debate on this issue," and "undermined the integrity of the Minnesota Supreme Court." Davis said he will launch a petition drive to remove Johnson from office.

Republican Party officials took a more tempered tone, but said Johnson needs to "come clean" on apparently contradictory statements.

"We'd really just like Dean Johnson to clear the air," said Mark Drake, communications director for the state Republican Party. "This apparently isn't the first time he's said he talked to justices about this. It's pretty confusing. Did he misspeak twice? This is very troubling."

Davis and Drake are playing good cop, bad cop....

Rep. Matt Entenza defends Dean Johnson.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, pointed out that because of a court case brought in 2002 by Republicans, judicial candidates can comment on legal issues, including those that might come before them. "Under the new rules for judges that the Republican Party won, judges can comment on cases, even before they come up," he said. "Ironically, because of this new standard, there appears to be no infraction by anyone."

They've discussed this issue on talk radio today both on Ron and Mark and Lambert and Janacek. Craig Westover comments:

Let's see -- I oppose the DOMA, I have written several columns on why a conservative ought to hold that same-sex marriage is a good thing, put myself at odds with friends, but you are peaked because I write against my own position on principle about a DFL legislator compromising the Supreme Court. The penance you would have me pay is write about some meaningless fringe group I never heard of?

Today on KXLT, Brian Lambert, instead of addressing the real issue of the integrity or lack thereof of the Court, dismissed my column as the work of an arch-conservative that supports the DOMA. Not only did he duck the serious question, but resorted to a personal attack that was not true (out of ignorance, NOT a lie). I do not support the amendment and I think recognizing same-sex marriage would be good for society.

The point is, while I and other conservatives are willing to look at same-sex marriage (and other issues) on a principled basis -- regardless of how we might personally feel about them -- and disagree with our party, you respond to a story that should motivate you to be concerned with the integrity of the Court or legislative leadership and respond with snarky partisanship.

That's why it's hard to take liberals seriously.
Craig Westover

Lambert clearly hasn't read Craig's work.

Both parties are hypocritical on this issue. Pat Lopez told me that Minnesota for Marriage is going to use this to try to pressure Dean Johnson into a floor vote.

As far as this characteristic being a liberal characteristic - this is a characteristic of partisans - on both sides. Look at how many Pawlenty Partisans started attacking David Strom when the Taxpayers League deservedly criticized Pawlenty for the health impact fee increase.

Craig's column is being used by the Republicans to push the marriage amendment. The Republican party sure doesn't print Craig's other columns or statements opposing the Bachmann amendment - for principled conservative reasons.

Craig also has a good and thoughtful post on the role of mainstream media editors. I happen to have higher standards for mainstream media than I do for blogs. I don't have the resources to do the investigative work that reporters at the Strib or Pioneer Press do. Craig also discusses some of the legs his column has gotten on Talk Radio.

UPDATE: The Strib has updated their story and removed the erroneous description DFL from my name. Thanks to Peter from Swanblog for the tip that the strib updated the story.