The feud between celebrity author Neil Gaiman and House Majority Leader Matt Dean took several bizarre twists Thursday, when lawmakers threatened retaliation against local libraries, Gaiman threatened retaliation against Dean, and the cast of characters expanded to include Snooki from MTV's "Jersey Shore.''
The action started when a House Republican committee chair said he is recommending a $45,000 cut in the Twin Cites' regional library system budget to make up for the state Legacy money it paid last year to Gaiman for a speaking appearance.
Gaiman quickly defended his speaking fees, saying they are comparable to those charged by Snooki, the reality TV star.
"I won the Newbery Medal. I won the Carnegie Medal," said Gaiman, who said he has 1.5 million Twitter followers. "I've written movies that were the Number 1 movie in the entire world.''
Gaiman said he donated his fee to charity. His talk was later broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio, and archived online.
Library officials, meanwhile, found themselves explaining why they paid an additional $2,719.18 in expenses for Gaiman, who lives near Menomonie, Wis., to travel to speak in nearby Stillwater.
Dean, R-Dellwood, got things rolling Tuesday by calling Gaiman a "pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota," has since apologized. He said Thursday he did not direct Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who chairs the House Legacy Funding Division committee, to trim $45,000 from the regional library system's proposed budget.
Dean' comments, however, underscored the ongoing concerns of the Republican majority about Legacy money being spent on arts and cultural projects as the Legislature struggles to solve a $5.1 billion budget deficit. The Legacy amendment, passed in 2008 with considerable financial support from arts groups in Minnesota, raised the state sales tax for 25 years to fund outdoors, clean water, parks and trails and arts and cultural heritage projects.
Urdahl, himself an author, said, "I simply subtracted out $45,000 -- just making a point," in explaining why he cut the library system's proposed Legacy budget to $3.45 million. The Legacy funding proposal, including the reduced budget for the regional library system, is being reviewed by legislators.
Urdahl also released a letter from the executive director of the Metropolitan Library Service Agency, who apologized for using "poor judgment" in paying Gaiman's fee. "In our naivete, we simply thought there was no room for negotiation," said Chris Olson, the group's executive director. "I am very sorry."
Patricia Conley, the Washington County library director who helped arrange Gaiman's visit, said she had no quarrel with Urdahl's proposal. "It's his right to do that," she said.
Gaiman, reached Thursday afternoon, said he found the entire episode "very weird" and said he could win court damages from Dean, the leading Republican in the Minnesota House, should he choose to do so.
"If I actually wanted to come after you, dude, I could," Gaiman said of Dean. Gaiman said he would not file a lawsuit, but was considering other options that would be "so much more fun than going legal."
Gaiman also maintained that he received $33,600 for the four-hour appearance -- a booking agency received the remainder -- and said other appearances, outside Minnesota, have paid him more than $60,000.
Gaiman said he donated his fee to charity, something he does as a matter of routine. His talk was also broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio, and archived online for interested listeners.
On Thursday, Dean tried to minimize the contretemps. "I think a lot of people were angry that he would ask for and accept such a fee," said Dean. Referring to Gaiman's work as a science fiction writer, Dean joked that he had likely made enemies among Star Trek fans. "He was kind of a flash point for wasteful spending."
Library officials said the nearly $2,800 in expenses included flying Gaiman to Stillwater from Chicago, where he was at the time of the April 2010 appearance. Gaiman said the expenses also included lodging. "They picked up a hotel room for me, which I used to change and have a nap," he said. "Twenty-seven hundred dollars seems unlikely."
Of Urdahl's move to reduce the library system's budget, Gaiman added: "It seems like a sad way to make a point."
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673