One might think Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, had seen it all. But despite more than four decades in state government and the same amount in the bruising world of city politics, Kahn said she’s never experienced anything like what happened Saturday, May 16.
Kahn claims she was screamed at repeatedly by Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, during a meeting in his office that day, and said she felt threatened as the Republican angrily told her to get out of his office, and slammed the door. According to Kahn’s statement, McNamara’s shouting was loud enough to be heard through different wings of the State Office Building.
The veteran DFLer detailed her version of events in an ethics complaint filed against McNamara, who Kahn says has refused to apologize for his behavior.
At issue is a he-said, she-said web of accusations that both legislators have apparently perceived as threats of calculated political payback. Kahn’s complaint says McNamara had heard — incorrectly, Kahn claims — that the Minneapolis Park Board was threatening to cut business ties with Hoffman & McNamara, a nursery and landscaping business owned by McNamara’s family.
Kahn went to meet with McNamara accompanied by Brian Rice, a political confidante for Kahn who also lobbies for the parks board, ostensibly to discuss a proposal in the environment omnibus bill that would strip dedicated revenues from North Mississippi Regional Park. Instead, a shouting match ensued, as McNamara apparently assumed that Rice had been the lobbyist overheard threatening his business.
In fact, McNamara later learned, the lobbyist in question was Maryann Campo, who has lobbied for the parks board since 2003. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, heard Campo’s comment in a Capitol hallway and — finding it “rather shocking,” according to an email the veteran DFL legislator later sent to House staffer Amy Zipko — she soon told the story to McNamara.
The matter came to a head when Kahn and Rice met McNamara in his office. Kahn’s ethics complaint claims the confrontation rattled her, and that she had “never felt so threatened and domineered by a fellow legislator.” A statement from Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, a freshman who was also present for the meeting, said McNamara’s shouted comments were reserved for Rice, not Kahn, and that McNamara did not “approach Rep. Kahn in a threatening way.”
Kahn’s complaint alleges McNamara’s actions that day broke House rules prohibiting behavior that “violates accepted norms of House behavior.” In an accompanying statement, Kahn said she had reached out repeatedly to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, asking that McNamara be forced to apologize publicly, and suggesting he consider taking anger management classes.
Her complaint saw progress on only one of those fronts. McNamara responded with a statement of his own, saying he had been “appalled” by the threat of retaliation against his family business, and was driven to his overreaction.
“In the heat of the moment, I reacted in a way that I now regret,” McNamara said. “To Representative Kahn, with whom I’ve always had a great working relationship, I would like to apologize, as many words were not directed at her but to Mr. Rice, who I thought had made the threat.”
On the legislative side, McNamara seems to have won out: The special session agriculture and environmental omnibus budget released last Friday still contains the provision removing the earmark for the North Minneapolis park; instead, the funds would be in the hands of the Metropolitan Council, which would allocate the revenue “for the use and betterment of all regional recreational open space lands” under its jurisdiction.
Kahn’s complaint asks Daudt to take action so that McNamara is “properly reprimanded and disciplined.” Per House rules, Daudt must refer the complaint to the House Ethics Committee within seven days. Ethics investigations against members are exceedingly rare, and substantive penalties are even less common.
The current iteration of the House Ethics Committee, chaired by Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, has not held a hearing in 2015.