Ethics Committee says Hoffman should apologize over Twitter comment

The Senate Ethics Committee says it will dismiss a complaint against Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vargas, if she apologizes to Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, in writing for a comment she wrote on Twitter about Goodwin. The Ethics Committee also says Hoffman has to delete the tweet in question and link to the Ethics report on Twitter. Hoffman was facing an ethics complaint for mischaracterizing on her Twitter feed that Goodwin called people with a mental illness “idiots and imbeciles” during a Senate floor debate.

Godwin says she’s satisfied with the action taken by the Ethics Committee.

“We want to make sure that we prevent these kinds of things in the future,” Goodwin said. “I’m hoping for a decent apology and that it’s a sincere apology.”

The committee of two Democrats and two Republican met to discuss an ethics complaint against Hoffman. Hoffman tweeted the comment in May when the Senate was debating a Health and Human Services budget bill. Goodwin said Hoffman mischaracterized her comments because she was discussing the historical context of mental health treatment in Minnesota.

The Ethics Committee debated for several hours and quibbled over how Hoffman should apologize, where she should apologize and how long an apology should be posted on Twitter.

“We’re asking for different apologies twice now,” Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said as he questioned why two apologies were necessary. Ingebrigtsen also said that the committee “was all caught up in this Twitter thing.”

Democrats argued that Hoffman should apologize in writing and on Twitter because she made the comments on Twitter.

“I’m narrow in my focus not about what everyone else here is doing in terms of Twittering and Tweeting,” Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said. “I’m simply focused on what I think is reasonable for us to ask Sen. Hoffman to do…”

The Ethics Committee held the hearing to act on an ethics complaint filed by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.

“Each of us, as one of the 67 Senators, does need to be held to account even during an emotional debate on important topics for what each of us says,” Rest said.

Hoffman did not testify during the hearing. Her attorney, Fritz Knaak, said Hoffman was upset with Goodwin’s comments and urged the committee to not start policing comments by members during difficult political debates.

“I certainly hope that the Ethics Committee doesn’t want to get on its plate into the heads of members of the debate, subjective positions being taken in difficult political contexts and difficult political debates,” Knaak said. “I would submit to you that that’s not a place that you want to go.”

The Ethics Committee will not dismiss the complaint until Hoffman apologizes on Twitter and issues a written apology to Goodwin.

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