Editor’s note: This article was submitted by multiple members of the Twin Cities business and volunteer communities. They are listed below.
Last week, our community was witness to something that we believe is unprecedented in the annals of Minnesota political campaigns. An incumbent, Republican Erik Paulsen of Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, leveled an outrageous lie at members of our community who volunteered to serve on the board of a nonprofit organization. If that was where it ended, it would hardly be newsworthy and we would hardly care; Paulsen’s campaign has hit a negativity level we have never seen from this former paragon of political civility. Most importantly, this behavior threatens what we believe makes Minnesota so special: the desire of people who live here to better the places we live.
Minnesotans volunteer at a rate nearly unprecedented across the country. We should be proud of and support our tendencies toward volunteerism, civic virtue and the desire for Minnesotans to make our communities better with all of our being. People who devote their time and energy to make organizations better should not be political pawns.
We point this out because Rep. Paulsen didn’t just aim this recent attack at his political opponent. He went on to accuse the entire Allina Board of Directors (on which Paulsen’s opponent served at the time) of covering up a sexual harassment suit in 2007. To be clear: Sexual harassment has no place in our workplaces or in our community. We resent the implication that the Allina board ignored such concerns.
The validity of Paulsen’s claim is further disproven by the plaintiff’s attorney in the lawsuit, who has publicly refuted the claim. On Friday, Paulsen doubled down on this lie and is now outraged that people are taking offense at his accusations. As people devoted to the success of our community and our state, we demand better.
Why does this matter? This goes beyond a congressional campaign turned nasty. It even goes beyond an issue that impacts Allina, one of the most revered medical institutions in our state. This attack matters because Erik Paulsen has aimed his political weapons against people who engage in service by serving institutions that move our community forward.
Each one of us, like many Minnesotans, has served on numerous boards over the years, including nonprofit boards like Allina. The effort spent is sometimes difficult, the time devoted is sometimes long, but the practice of serving as a steward of a community institution is always important.
We question the wisdom of a politician who is so desperate to retain a seat that he would stoop to this level. What precedent is he setting? What message is he sending to future generations of leaders who want to engage in this kind of meaningful work?
With his reckless campaigning, Paulsen has shown willful disregard for the role that the multitudes of people who step up to board service mean to the ongoing health and vibrancy of our community. Authentic leaders think about the consequences of their decisions and actions. They not only act on behalf of those around them, but they think beyond them and into the future of generations to come.
We have known Congressman Paulsen for many years and we have respected his ability to act honorably to bridge divides between the parties and see the big picture. But something has changed. Over the past years, he has forgotten the important common-sense role he has played. And now he has exhibited some of the worst behavior and judgment that we have ever seen in a congressional campaign. Our leaders should be encouraging Minnesotans to volunteer for local organizations. And Minnesotans should be able to serve their community without fear of being dragged into a highly charged, inappropriate political dogfight.
The authors of this article include Bill and Penny George (Penny is chair of George Family Foundation; Bill is former chair and CEO of Medtronic); Ed and Valerie Spencer (Ed is a former Allina Health Board chair, and both he and Valerie are community volunteers); Tad and Cindy Piper (Tad is retired chairman and CEO of Piper Jaffray, and both are community volunteers); Terry Saario and Lee Lynch (Terry is the former president of the Northwest Area Foundation, and Lee is cofounder of the advertising firm Carmichael Lynch); and Jim and Carmen Campbell (Jim is a former CEO of Wells Fargo Minnesota, and both are community volunteers).