Women of Minnesota, it's time to clean House.
Last July, Rep. Mark Olson (R-Big Lake) was convicted of one count of misdemeanor domestic assault with the intent to cause fear. Sherburne County District Judge Alan Pendleton sentenced him to two years' probation and required Olson pay $400 in fines as well as court costs for repeatedly pushing down his wife Heidi during an argument.
That seems like a pretty light sentence, you say. A person convicted of a domestic assault charge ought to draw a stricter punishment, you think to yourself, and you're not alone. In December 2006, not long after the charges against Olson were filed, Gov. Tim Pawlenty was quoted by Minnesota Public Radio: "If it turns out that he's found guilty or pleads guilty to the conduct alleged, then it's just not appropriate for him to be serving in the Legislature." (Fun tip: At MPR's website you can hear this tough talk for yourself.)
So what happened? Nothing. Olson won't quit. Last fall his Republican caucus dumped him, but no one in the party has made another peep about wanting him to resign.
You don't need to be a state officer of a national feminist organization (as I am) to hear this news and want to puke. You don't need to be a victim of domestic assault and/or know someone who is (as most of us do) to feel repulsed. You just need to give a damn about the people of Minnesota to know instinctively that Mark Olson has got to go.
Would a representative convicted of real estate fraud be allowed to serve in a body that determined the laws governing such transactions? If dear Gov. Pawlenty, heaven forbid, had a file full of speeding tickets, would we want him wielding his veto power over a bill that would put such repeat offenders in prison?
The budgets of women's shelters and domestic abuse education programs are determined by the Legislature. Should Mark Olson be allowed to have a vote when such a bill comes before him? Would you trust him with that kind of power?
It wasn't that long ago that a friend admitted to me that the breakup of her long-term relationship was caused by her partner's abuse. "Some feminist I am," she said, laughing bitterly. My response then was that it's not anti-feminist to be abused; abuse can and does happen to anyone. Victims aren't defined by their class, race, gender, sexual orientation, or even political orientation. "It's feminist to leave," I said, and I still believe that now.
For all the endless hand-wringing over what is and isn't feminist (lipstick? "Sex and the City?" hot pink iPods? heterosexuality?), let's all agree on one thing: It's feminist to speak up and speak out. Even a hater like Ann Coulter enjoys the right to press charges against a partner who beats her up, and she has a hundred years of feminists to thank for the privilege.
The home can be a dangerous place. In my last column, I wrote about the little hairline fractures that develop in one housewife, and the devastating consequences of going too long without help. Reactions among my readers ranged from support ("you nailed it") to admiration ("that was so brave") to embarrassment (one woman told me she was "shocked by the nakedness of your despair"). It shouldn't be surprising news that hurt exists, but that's America. It takes disaster to elicit change.
Yet for every single woman who speaks up, hundreds of her sisters remain silent. And why not? Put yourself in the Crocs of a housewife, radical or no, sitting in her living room one evening last summer as she watches Don Shelby deliver the news of Mark Olson's conviction. As part of the story she sees Olson report that he'll remain in the Minnesota Legislature, and the Republican leadership will let him. She has to move the ice pack from the bruise on her cheek; it's getting soaked with her tears. If a public person like Mark Olson won't have to pay for his crime, how will her partner? She might just change her mind and not file that police complaint after all.
Each of us must call our legislators to demand Olson be brought before the Ethics Committee at the start of the 2008 session. (The House switchboard, at 1-800-657-3550 can assist you. Another suggestion: If you're reading this and you live in Big Lake, Becker or elsewhere in District 16B, do not hesitate for a moment. Run against him.
Men need to join women in booting Olson from the legislature. There's a history of good ol' boys at the Capitol like Steve Sviggum allowing Rep. Mark Olson to avoid responsibility for abusing his staff: