Glenn Gruenhagen sent out an email today in which he hoped to clarify what he did with his legislative salary for July, but a review of earlier statements to the press show that his story has shifted a bit across the summer.
It's as if he were castaway--and forgot h'd already shared his plans for the money back in July. Fortunately, those messages corked in the media still wash ashore in Google searches.
Back on July 2, 2011, the Mankato Free Press published State shutdown: Q&A with local legislators. Gruenhagen responded to the question about taking pay and per diem (later news reports clarified that the House had decided not to allow per diems for anyone during the session, so this choice wasn't really in any state representative's hands by July):
Will you collect any pay or per diem, now or later, for the period that state government is shut down?. . .
Gruenhagen: “I’m considering giving the additional pay to local district charities, depending on how long it goes. ... Who knows how long this will drag on?”
As the shutdown lingered, Gruenhagen's answer to press inquiries grew more firm. On July 18, 2011, the Arlington Enterprise published Some legislators still getting paid during government shutdown. Editor Kurt Menk had interviewed both Representative Glenn Gruenhagen and Senator Al DeKruif about their decisions to accept their salaries during the shutdown.
DeKruif repeated his peculiar explanation--shared with other news venues--about accepting his salary based on what he perceives to be the power and agenda of Senator Larry Pogemiller. Bluestem had posted about the odd reasoning in The Pogemiller prophecy; or, Senator Al DeKruif's secret history of the MN government shutdown.
Gruenhagen was more straightforward in the reasoning shared with the Arlington editor:
State Representative Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) has decided to receive the base salary in July.
“I plan to donate it to food shelves and district charities,” said Gruenhagen. “If the shutdown continues past July, I am considering refusing pay in August although I believe the charities will spend it on the real needs of people better than government.”
Given that reasoning, it would seem that Gruenhagen won't join Ron Shimanski in supporting a bill that prevents non-profits from getting government grants if a public agency can do the same tasks.
But today, Gruenhagen's story about his pay has altered a bit. In an email letter titled, Clearing the air on salaries, Gruenhagen tells his constituents:
Please allow me to clear the air regarding recent reports pertaining to legislative pay during the July state shutdown.
While news stories correctly reported who did and did not receive their regular salary, many accounts failed to provide the background necessary for an accurate portrayal. Unfortunately, this has left many Minnesotans with a skewed perception of how things unfolded.
If I had been asked to comment, I would have explained how I accepted my legislative salary in order to donate a substantial portion of it to area food shelves. If I had simply refused my paycheck in July, that money would have remained in the Legislature’s hands for future use instead of being returned to the state’s treasury. I did not want that to happen.
Had I been asked, I also would have indicated I accepted nearly 20 percent less in per-diem payments than I was entitled during the regular session, saving taxpayers several thousand dollars. This may seem insignificant in terms of our total state budget, but it shows I am committed to walking the walk on fiscal responsibility.
My integrity as a person and as a public servant are very important to me and I take the trust local citizens have placed in me very seriously. I did not want to receive my full salary during a state shutdown when many Minnesotans were suffering economically, but chose to accept it in order to make these charitable donations.
Thanks again for the opportunity to clarify this issue.
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen
Bluestem reprints the entire message above for fairness sake.
A couple of observations. First, Gruenhagen implies that he didn't have a chance to tell his side of the story during the shutdown, and yet at least two newpapers posted his varying responses online.He will be hard-pressed to play the victim or claim he wasn't given a chance to tell his side of the story.
Second, during the shutdown, he told the Arlington paper that that he was donating his pay to charities. Now, it's a significant part of the salary, but not the whole thing.
Third, if he doesn't trust the legislature--which is controlled by the folks with whom he caucuses--with money, is the House really the best place for him? What's he telling them--and us?
A final thought: Bluestem has been highly critical of Gruenhagen in the past and it stands by those remarks. However, a number of acquaintances who work for nonprofits and unions have praised his willingness to meet with them, however far apart they may be on issues. In these divisive times, that openness is to be respected--and recognized, even by the most "refreshingly confrontational" blogger.
Photo: Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen