Johnson apologizes for ripping OccupyMN protesters

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is apologizing for characterizing the OccupyMN protesters at the Hennepin County Government Center as “socialists, anarchists, flower children” who were “very messy.”

On his blog today, Johnson, who also serves as Minnesota’s Republican National Committeeman, said the remarks were unscripted and that he went for some “cheap applause.”

I made the comment off-the-cuff in a joking way to a group of conservative activists. And while it was not meant for public consumption, when I read it in print later it certainly came off as rather mean and obnoxious (to use my own term).

I try to teach my two boys not to live their lives in different “boxes” where they act one way in one setting and completely differently in another – maybe saying something to friends or on Facebook that they wouldn’t think of saying at home or in church. Obviously, I wasn’t practicing what I preach as I wouldn’t have used terms like that, even in jest, in any other public setting.

Now, let me say, I have read what are purported to be some of the “demands” of the Occupy Wall Street crowd – which is the genesis of the Occupy Minnesota crowd – and I couldn’t more vehemently disagree with many of them (universal government healthcare, free college education for all, completely open borders, trillions in new spending, elimination of secret ballot votes in union organizing campaigns, etc). And I frankly get very annoyed at the propensity of some to blame our greatest problems on the free market or successful businessmen and women rather than on government policies and the politicians who have gotten us into this massive mess.

Nonetheless, going for a little cheap applause by calling people names isn’t the way to respond.

I’m never afraid to take on anyone’s argument when I disagree – and that will never change – but I have always tried to keep political disagreements from turning personal and have worked hard to listen to and work with those whose views might be quite different from mine. I probably didn’t represent that philosophy very well on this one.

Johnson later wrote on Twitter that he met with a few of the protesters. He said they were “decent people with VERY different views from me of what ails our country.”

Side note: Johnson characterized our initial reporting of his comments as “hastily reported.” It should be noted that his comments were posted on the blog and ran on the radio several hours after he made the comments. I also consulted with our political editor, Mike Mulcahy, as to whether Johnson’s comments were worthy of reporting. We decided to publish the comments since the protests were being held at Johnson’s place of work – the Hennepin County Government Center.