Eric Greitens might be wishing he were governor of Minnesota and not Missouri about now.
Gov. Greitens is the subject of a sex scandal detailed in a graphic 24-page report released by the Missouri House of Representatives. It made the report public April 11 after a lengthy investigation, imperiling Greitens’ political career.
In Minnesota, a similar legislative report probably wouldn’t be released.
Earlier this year, Minnesota House leaders buried their report on alleged sexual misconduct by one of their own. After spending $30,000 to investigate the very public claims against former Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, three House leaders announced they wouldn’t release even a summary of the findings.
Apparently aware that this might not sit well with the public, they offered an excuse: protecting the privacy of people familiar with the accusations.
The privacy claim doesn’t hold water. Two women went public last fall with their accusations against Cornish. Further, identifying accusers as well as the accused is a good way to ensure public accountability. Still, if Minnesota House leaders were sincerely uneasy about identifying any women or witnesses they could have redacted their names from the findings and released the report.
That’s what Missouri did.
There’s a more convincing explanation for why Minnesota legislators are keeping their report under wraps. Lack of transparency is part of the Minnesota Legislature’s DNA. It has exempted itself from complying with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, the open-records law that state agencies, cities, counties and school districts must obey. That puts it at odds with Missouri and 44 other states that require their legislatures to comply — at least to some degree — with their open-records laws, according to the National Freedom of Information Coalition. (After a scandal in the 1990s, Minnesota made legislators’ long-distance phone records public under a different law.)
In Missouri, support for releasing its report was bipartisan — as was support for suppressing the report in Minnesota.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, cited a House policy that says “complaints, investigations, and resolutions will be handled as discreetly as possible.” But that vague standard doesn’t justify hiding a summary report of a high-profile investigation.
They also suggested, without evidence, that releasing the report could have a “potential chilling effect” on future investigations by discouraging witnesses from coming forward. Wouldn’t burying the report be more discouraging to the women who cooperated with the investigation in hope of shedding light on a problem?
Missouri’s report contains witness accounts that give the public important facts to consider. Minnesota’s House leaders, instead of releasing their report, put out a page and a third of “key takeaways” from it. They include the bland observation that “some House members lack sufficient appreciation for, or choose to disregard, the power imbalance between members, on the one hand, and legislative staff, lobbyists, and others …”
Minnesotans like to think of their state as practicing good governance. But when it comes to legislative transparency, Missouri has us beat.
Pat Doyle, of Minneapolis, is a former Star Tribune reporter.