House Minority Leader’s comments spark controversy

Rep. Melissa Hortman
Rep. Melissa Hortman

District 36B Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), minority leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives, sparked controversy on the floor during an April 3 debate regarding a bill to increase penalties for protesters who block freeways in the state.
During the debate, Hortman moved for a “call of the House,” a move that compels any absent representatives to sit at their seats on the floor if their absence is not excused. This is a maneuver that is occasionally used in legislative bodies to obtain a quorum.
“Call the House, Mr. Speaker. I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate,” Hortman said.
After legislators returned to their seats, Republicans in the House questioned Hortman’s comment.
“I have to say, that last comment was completely inappropriate for the House of Representatives, and I would hope you would apologize for that statement that you made, Minority Leader,” said House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers). “I think it’s very inappropriate to make comments about white males, racist comments about white males in the background, so I would ask you, Representative Hortman, to retract that statement. It was ridiculous,” Peppin said.
Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) also asked Hortman to apologize. “I have a lot of respect for everybody on the floor here, and the comment that was made by the Minority Leader, I guess got me going here,” Dettmer said. “I’m a white male. I respect everybody. But I really believe the comments that were made by the Minority Leader were really not appropriate,” Dettmer said.
“Minority Leader, would you apologize to the body?” Dettmer asked.
“Representative Dettmer, I’m glad you asked me to yield. I have no intention of apologizing,” Hortman said. “I am so tired of watching Rep. Susan Allen give an amazing speech, Rep. Peggy Flanagan give an amazing speech, watching Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn give an amazing speech, Rep. Rena Moran give the most heartfelt, incredible speech I’ve heard on this House floor, as long as I can remember, watching Rep. Ilhan Omar give an amazing speech, and looking around to see, where are my colleagues?” Hortman said.
“And I went in the retiring room, and I saw where a bunch of my colleagues were. And I’m really tired of watching women of color, in particular, being ignored. So, I’m not sorry,” Hortman added.
“All I know is, if I would have made a comment like that, it probably would have made the front page of the newspapers, and Minority Leader, I do forgive you,” Dettmer said.
“I think I need to once again address the issue that happened before, and Leader Hortman, I hope you after some sleep tonight maybe you reconsider what you said,” Peppin said later.
“I think when you call out a whole group of people based on their sex and their gender you’re not only offending the members of this Legislature, but you’re offending everyone at home, and I was really disappointed when you were asked specifically by another member for an apology, but you didn’t do it,” Peppin added.
The bill passed through the House in a 94-37 vote.

Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]