ST. PAUL -- An ethics complaint against Rep. Arlon Lindner died Thursday following a 2-2 tie vote in the House Ethics Committee that followed party lines.
At issue was whether there was probable cause to discipline the Corcoran Republican for remarks he made on the House floor and in newspaper interviews questioning whether, or the extent to which, homosexuals were persecuted during the Nazi Holocaust.
Lindner said he was happy with the outcome, adding that he hadn't expected the matter to be settled at this hearing. He also said he stands by his remarks and offered no apology.
His floor comments also included the statement that he didn't want to "to sit around here and wait until America becomes another African continent," a reference he said applied to the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Asked if he regretted any of the statements after the verdict, he answered, "not in the least."
At that, a member of the audience called Lindner a "redneck."
"You offended me, representative," shouted Bill English, from the Coalition of Black Churches and African American Leadership Summit. "Get some education and learn something before you offend a whole nation of people."
Lindner responded that it was English who was acting intolerant.
DFL House leader Rep. Matt Entenza, of St. Paul, said the verdict means that any comments, regardless of their truth, will be allowed on the House floor.
"I think this highly partisan proceeding would give even a kangaroo court a bad name," he said.
Rep. Greg Davids, of Preston, one of the two Republicans on the panel who voted not to pursue the charges, said while he believed Lindner's comments were factually incorrect, he decided the case on freedom-of-speech grounds.
"I believe on the House floor he has the right to speak," Davids said.
Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, the chairwoman of the committee who joined Davids in the vote, said Lindner's comments were no different than a lawmaker who uses the term fetus in a discussion about abortion instead of the words "unborn child," saying she finds those comments hurtful.
"Hurtful things are said on the House floor quite frequently," she said.
Voting for the finding of probable cause to move toward a disciplinary proceeding were Democratic Reps. Tom Pugh, of South St. Paul, and Mary Murphy, of Hermantown.
Scott Cooper, of the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota, said he's worried about the climate the vote could create.
"If it's OK for public officials to denigrate people and deny their history and not be corrected, then isn't it OK for them to discriminate against them? To commit acts of violence against them? That's how this hits the ground outside the Capitol," Cooper said.
Lindner's comments first arose in discussion of his bill to repeal state human rights protections for people based on their sexual orientation. A part of that bill would remove any references to homosexuals in state statutes in references to the Holocaust.
Davids and Erickson were both co-sponsors of that bill, though both later removed their names.
Erickson said her views on the bill did not affect her opinion on the Lindner complaint.
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