The Swanson affair

The spotlight is certainly on Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson today. MPR’s Tim Pugmire has the story of problems in the AG’s office, ostensibly over efforts to unionize. But, says staff attorney Amy Lawler, it’s deeper than that.

There are a lot of things that are really wrong with the office right now that are a real disservice to the public,” Lawler said. “And as a result, we’re losing the best talent, the brightest minds. People don’t feel like there’s anything they can do to improve the office, so they just leave, or get fired. “

But it was this quote from Lawler in Tim’s story that is the eye rubber. Lawler describes the head of the office’s “social committee” taking her out for coffee, to deliver an anti-union message:

“He started talking to me about why we didn’t need a union,” Lawler said, “how people only need unions if they are lazy and don’t want to do work, and if they’re not very good at their jobs and they need protection.”

Pardon me while I check again what the “L” stands for in DFL.

Swanson refused interview requests from MPR, an unfortunate — and certainly ill-advised — stance for a public official to take when there are such serious allegations coming from inside her office. Her last appearance on MPR’s Midmorning was in August, when she said the union issue is “not an issue for the boss or the employer to interfere with, and I have not done that.”

The near mutiny is reminiscent, of course, of one that occurred within the office of then U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose. But the media’s pursuit of Swanson, writes Mark Cohen, blogger and editor at Minnesota Lawyer, has been nowhere near as intense as that of Paulose.

Paulose was essentially driven from office by a barrage of negative media because people didn’t like her management style. Meanwhile, the Strib as near as I can figure hasn’t reported since May 2007 on the tribulations at the office of a DFL AG, despite allegations of harsh management practices and union-busting. It’s hard not to view that as a double standard.

Last month, Minnesota Lawyer carried details of a survey of the staff in Swanson’s office, and found that 52 of the 82 staffers did not agree with the three assistant attorneys general — including Lawler — who penned their dissatisfaction in a letter to her.

But that caused its own level of controversy, as shown by several anonymous comments on Cohen’s blog, purporting to be from current attorneys in Swanson’s office.

MPR’s Gary Eichten asked the leaders of the Legislature today about the controversy during his Midday broadcast today. “I don’t know what all the options are in this situation,” said House Speaker Margaret Kelliher, who said she heard the story on the radio this morning. For the record, though, this has not been a secret up until today. “The governor doesn’t like it when we get into his direct business.”

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller also acknowledged hearing the story on the radio. “She is a separate elected official in the executive branch and I think the Legislature probably will be a little hesitant getting into the business of those executive agencies on a matter like this,” he said.

Given Swanson’s refusal to answer any questions and the Legislature’s apparent disinterest in getting involved, it’s certainly unclear who will clean up the mess.

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