Although two supporters of Senator Gretchen Hoffman have written that death threats and bullying during the session required escorts for the freshman legislator by law enforcement at the state capitol, an investigation by Bluestem Prairie finds no evidence to support the claims.
Last Friday, the Fergus Falls Daily Journal published a letter, Should advocate for Hoffman abasement, in which Fergus Falls resident David Adams scolded the newspaper for not defending the freshman senator against the ethics claims menace and the senator who generated it:
Additionally, you seem to think that she must obey your demands that she grovel to a mean-spirited and vindictive Sen. Goodwin who does nothing but promote a hedonistic agenda aimed at demeaning our traditional cultural values.
Okay then. Bluestem has not found the pursuit of pleasure to be the province of the mean-spirited and vindicative, but as a poor country blogger, my perspective on hedonism might suffer geographic limitations.
Adams is entitled to his opinion, as we all are, but later in the letter, he asserts a claim which stopped me cold:
In keeping her promise to us, Hoffman has been threatened with loss of her life, and bullied so badly by liberal groupies within the capitol halls that she has had to have capitol police escort her from her offices to committee hearings.[emphasis added]
However, The Daily Journal is more concerned with some perceived insult to someone who does not even represent our district or our interests. . . .
. . .You should be advocating for the protection of our senator not for her abasement.
Has Senator Hoffman's life been threatened? Has she been "bullied so badly by liberal groupies within the capitol halls that she has had to have capitol police escort her from her offices to committee hearings"?
If so, this isn't a joking matter. Death threats and a need for police escorts are no laughing matter. It's also a feminist issue, since historically violence and threats of violence have been used to keep women--regardless of their party--from participating in politics. More broad human rights considerations suggest that everyone has a right to feel secure in his or her person as we go about our business.
Nor is this the first time that a letter writer has claimed that Senator Hoffman has had reason to fear for her life. Back in early April, Jerome Mullins wrote in Hoffman garners even more respect from voter:
And her work in committees to expose and cut unnecessary jobs and payroll expenses in some bloated governmental agencies and departments has got the government labor unions so angry with her that there are days when several Capitol police have to escort her and other conservative lawmakers around the halls of the legislature to provide her safety from the threats of the unions.
If these claims are true, this is serious stuff--for while Bluestem believes in felicitously composed ridicule, it doesn't support threats to people's lives. There should be no "Second Amendment solution" in disagreements with our elected officials; the solution is civic engagement and elections.
Have liberal groupies and public employee unions threatened Senator Hoffman with bodily harm? I couldn't find any news reports that support Mullins' claim that she and "other conservative lawmakers" had to be escorted by law enforcement inside the capitol--nor any reports of Hoffman being singled out.
One blogger had asked Are Conservative Lawmakers Being Escorted Around Capitol By Security? after reading Mullins's LTE in the Wadena Pioneer Journal, but appears to have directed his question to the world at large, rather than those involved in providing capitol complex security.
Others were asking more general questions about security on the hill. Indeed, questions of capitol complex security were deemed important enough by Governor Dayton, legislative leaders and the state supreme court to put together a review of the state's approach to the issue, following the attack on Representative Gabby Giffords in Arizona. The final report of the Minnesota committee can be read here.
Given the seriousness of the letter writers' claims--and Adams' request that the Fergus Falls Daily Journal begin advocating for Hoffman's protection, Bluestem started asking the specific question: Has Senator Gretchen Hoffman needed a police escort inside the Minnesota State Capitol because she has received threats?
My first call was to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office. The person who answered the phone hadn't heard of any threats to Senator Hoffman, but noted that "Capitol Security" would be in charge of investigating any threats to senators, as well as providing any "police" escort inside the building. I was directed to call John Mock at Capitol Security.
Returning my call later yesterday afternoon, Mock said that no state patrol officers had been assigned to escort Senator Hoffman during the session, and his office had no record of any death threats to Hoffman that had been reported to Capitol Security. However, he added that this is not a definitive answer.
He noted that while people often refer--as the letter writers did-- to "capitol police," this phrase is a misnomer. Two state patrol officers are assigned to Capitol Security, although their numbers are often supplemented as security needs change (say, when large rallies are planned).
The uniformed state patrol officers on duty are assisted by uniformed civilian security officers, who are employees of the state patrol, Mock explained. The uniformed civilian security officers are the men and women at the state capitol who wear blue uniforms.
Finally, a third group assists with securing the capitol, non-uniformed civilian security personnel. This final group is largely composed of retired law enforcement officers. They wear maroon blazers, khaki slacks, and badges (not shields) that identify them.
Mock thought that it was possible that Hoffman might have asked for an escort from any of these levels, although his office has no record of such a request and no state patrol officers were assigned to protect her.
He noted that anyone at the capitol complex--including any visitor--can ask for an escort if he or she feels the need for one; one doesn't have to be a state employee or legislator working at the state capitol to receive assistance from Capitol Security. This policy is very much in line with security procedures at universities; escorts can be requested by anyone who feels the need for one. It's "better safe than sorry" common sense.
So it is possible that at some point in the session, Senator Hoffman asked for an escort from Capitol Security. However, the office didn't receive reports of any death threats nor did it provide a "capitol police escort" as a consequence of them.
Given that this is the case, Mullins and Adams' claims seem more like the posings of characters from a reality show than solid concerns about Senator Hoffman's security. Indeed, I can't find any instance of Senator Hoffman herself making statements about threats or a need for "capitol police" escort.
I suspect a couple of DFL activist friends may be reading this and wondering where "liberal groupies" might be found, while public employee union members are probably just rolling their eyes at the "government employee union" rhetoric. One of the tactics of the right is to invoke dislike of the "government" with that dog-whistle label, in order to better demonize all public employees.
Let Bluestem make a modest proposal to Mullins and Adams. Given their flair for hysterics, and the overall lack of evidence at the state capitol for their claims, let them go into show business. All across greater Minnesota, cable access channels are crying out for material. These budding scriptwriters should pitch a show that will demonstrate their creative potential. Call it "The Real Drama Queens of Otter Tail County."
Photo: State Senator Gretchen Hoffman