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Capitol Retort: Whistleblowers, Charlottesville, Mrs. America

Editor’s note: Welcome to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with a rotating cast of legal and political people in the know. Answers are edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.

Question 1: The Minnesota Supreme Court has killed off the requirement under state law that a whistleblower is only protected when “exposing an illegality.” Now whistleblowers can’t be fired from their jobs if they report violations in “good faith.” What do you think about that?

Scott Dibble, DFL state senator: That’s great. I’m one of those transparency guys in the Legislature, and I know that we want to encourage our public servants to help us keep an eye on things. One of the jobs of the Legislature, of course, is oversight of the executive branch agencies and public services, and there is almost no way for us to actually know what is going on unless people who are inside the system are able to tell us about opportunities for improvements, failures, that sort of thing. So that’s great. I didn’t actually know about it, but I’m glad to hear it.

Dennis Smith, GOP House member, attorney: I have not read the decision and I am not familiar with the case, but in a general sense a good-faith measure is the right standard for the whistleblower statute. We need to afford people with the protections to come forward when things are not correct, or where possibly illegal activity is going on, so we can have more protection of the people impacted by this.

Dave Ornstein, former Bloomington city attorney: I’d endorse that. Of course, defining “good faith” can always be a problem. But I think the intent was positive and it’s good for society and good for the state. I think there has been kind of a deterrent to people who, in good faith, report things that they honestly believe to be illegal or unethical. To face a backlash, whether it’s a firing or suspension, deters whistleblowing. By and large, I think the whistleblowing statue is beneficial to the state.

Pete Orput, Washington County attorney: As a manager, I would be grateful when people bring to me any illegalities, for sure, but also any inappropriate conduct. I would encourage people to come forward. If this helps with that path toward that, that’s good. The only way I can correct things and make them better is when people have the courage to tell me what’s going on and give me an opportunity to address it.


People line Fifth Avenue in New York on Aug. 16 as they watch President Donald Trump’s motorcade leave Trump Tower. (AP photo)

People line Fifth Avenue in New York on Aug. 16 as they watch President Donald Trump’s motorcade leave Trump Tower. (AP photo)

Question 2: The news media reacted with a collective shudder — some guests and hosts on Fox News actually cried — after President Trump’s strangely equivocal statements about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. How did you react?

Dibble: Words kind of escape me in this moment. I am just so completely thunderstruck and flabbergasted that our president is such a colossal moral failure, and is a force for division and for fueling hatred and for basically giving aid to those who would deny other Americans their humanity. I think this is one of the darkest chapters in our country’s history. I’m at a loss. I truly am.

Smith: I reacted how the country reacted. There is no place for this type of discourse in our political process. Any sort of condoning or implying that you agree with these horrific organizations — the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, etcetera — there is no place for that in our society. And we need to do everything we can to remind them that that is not welcomed and not healthy and that we have an open society with an open exchange of ideas.

Ornstein: I was disgusted, repelled. Not surprised. His Monday statement, to me, sounded insincere. I have absolutely no respect for Donald Trump as a person or a president of the United States. I think he is totally incompetent in terms of his character, in his lack of knowledge of history and the Constitution and in his lack of intellectual curiosity. He has failed miserably in all respects.

I am really concerned about the future of the country. I am really fearful that we are going to have more and more of these violent confrontations.

Orput: I felt like crying myself, but for entirely different reasons. I wasn’t feeling sorry for the president’s equivocating. I was just feeling sad that we’re continuing to struggle like this 150 years after the end of the Civil War. I was hoping we would have made more progress.


Question 3: Jennifer Susan Kline, a former Mrs. America and home shopping channel host was convicted on Aug. 15 of stealing $5,500 from Macy’s by swapping out price tags on purchased clothing, then returning it. What is the moral of the story?

Dibble: You know what? Is it really worth it at the end of the day?

Smith: I read about this story. The moral of the actions by this person is that you should not steal. So any penalty she receives for her conviction is well deserved. We have laws in our state and they need to be followed.

Ornstein: I think the defense attorney argued during a one-week trial that it was Macy’s fault because of its tolerant return policy. [Laughs.] The moral of the story? Thou shalt not steal. Gotta bring in the Ten Commandments!

Just as an aside: Back when I was city attorney in Mankato, I did everything—the civil, the prosecution, it was a one-person shop. And there I ran into a couple of prominent people who were ultimately convicted of shoplifting who had plenty of money. … Sometimes what happens is people want to get caught—I don’t know if it’s a self-hating thing or whatever, I’m not a psychiatrist. I just know there are people with the monetary means to buy whatever they steal and they just do these stupid things.

Orput: That her conduct was immoral. This is an example that the law doesn’t take into account special treatment for people who think they’re special. That fact that she is Mrs. Minnesota wouldn’t matter to me at all, other than as a public figure you’d think she would conform her morality and conduct a little more appropriately.

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