Although she is now the subject of a new attack commercial by Republicans against an Edina DFLer, Pat Maahs had never been interested in politics very much, and she certainly never dreamed she would be part of an effort to defeat an 11-term legislator.

“I wish I would have paid more attention in my fifth-grade social studies classes,” said Maahs, who works at a hardware store. “Let’s put it this way, I was pretty green when I came into this. It has been a learning experience, but it’s been a good learning experience.”

Maahs was pushed into the political world by a bizarre and disturbing series of events.

A couple of years ago, Maahs caught a co-worker ejaculating into her coffee. The employee was fired and charged with criminal sexual conduct after he admitted he had put semen into Maahs’ coffee numerous times. But there was no law that covered putting body fluids into someone’s food, so the perpetrator, John Lind of Blaine, escaped serious punishment.

Maahs was angry enough that she set out to strengthen the law, testifying before the Legislature despite the humiliating nature of the assault.

Last session, Rep. Debra Hilstrom, D-Brooklyn Center, introduced a bill that would make the act of putting bodily fluids into someone’s food sexual assault. The bill was discussed late one night, when everyone was obviously tired and punchy. But that’s no excuse for what happened next.

Rep. Ron Erhardt, D-Edina, invoked a scene from “Friends” to raise questions about the potential reach of the bill. To demonstrate, he held up his coffee cup and began to lick the rim. At some point, he burst into hysteric laughter.

Maahs, who had worked diligently to pass the law, was sitting in the gallery. She didn’t find it funny. Someone tipped me off to the scene, and I wrote a column about it last March.

Maahs is now the subject of an ad released in the past two weeks in the southern metro that takes Erhardt to task for the inappropriate conduct. It is not the first time Erhardt’s comedic timing was off. He also dressed up in a doctor’s coat and stethoscope and made jokes about the avian flu, which at the time was devastating Minnesota turkey farms. He later apologized.

But he didn’t apologize to Maahs until Sunday, after he saw the commercials.

“It went fine,” said Maahs. “He went on to explain he did not do it to offend me. I explained that someone had put semen in my coffee cup, and then he pretended to lick his coffee cup. I think he finally realized what he did was offensive. He finally apologized.”

Maahs said she gave Erhardt some advice: “Maybe you shouldn’t be trying humor on the floor of the Legislature.”

While Maahs appreciated the apology, it didn’t change her view. “In my opinion, he shouldn’t be in office,” she said.

Erhardt, who is in a tight race with Dario Anselmo for the seat, issued a statement after I contacted him and the party on Monday.

“I have spoken with Ms. Maahs and apologized for offending her. During the debate on the bill, I used an illustration from the TV show, ‘Friends’ to highlight an important flaw in the bill. The illustration was offensive to Ms. Maahs, I made a mistake and I’m sorry for it.”

Ben Golnik of the House Republican Campaign Committee said the party is running the ad in Edina and surrounding areas. Golnik said the incident is pertinent to the race.

“I think it really cuts to the conversation of his judgment,” Golnik said.

I certainly agree that Erhardt’s behavior last session was strange, inappropriate and hurtful to Maahs, who has showed incredible courage in speaking out about this issue. I don’t blame her for holding Erhardt accountable.

But to see Republicans feign indignation at lewd behavior is almost comical given that the guy who heads their national party’s ticket and congressional candidate Jason Lewis seem to share the same joke writer as Erhardt.

Thank goodness this carnival of the absurd should be over by this time next week.

 

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