Editorial: Disclosure about Sen. Koch was the right call

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2011 - 8:25 PM

Senate leader's episode illustrates changed nature of public life.

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Minnesota Sen. Amy Koch

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Reaction to Friday's shocking news from the state Senate has run the gamut from sympathy to outrage. An "inappropriate relationship" with an unidentified direct-report male staffer was behind Sen. Amy Koch's abrupt resignation as Senate majority leader the day before, Minnesotans learned.

Shortly afterward, they were told that Koch's top adviser, Senate Republican communications director Michael Brodkorb, was no longer on the Senate payroll. No explanation for his departure has been given.

Among those dismayed by the news were some who wondered whether it had to be news at all.

Did four male senators really need to announce the until-then hidden reason for the resignation of the Senate's first female majority leader? Was Koch being held to a different standard than legislators had been in years past, or a male legislator would be today?

We think the answers, respectively, are yes, yes and no.

The four clearly uncomfortable men who disclosed the reason for Koch's departure from her leadership post did the advisable thing with bad news in a public realm. Granted, they might have spared themselves some suspicion if they had found a female senator to join them.

But rather than waiting for the story to roll out from unfriendly and ill-informed sources, the foursome told it themselves, as directly and fully as sound employment policies permit. That's what stewardship of a crucial public institution required.

Previous legislators have also had "inappropriate" relationships. In decades past, they were spared the public airing Koch has endured. What has changed has less to do with gender than with the changed nature of public life.

The sphere of privacy that elected officials once could occupy after hours has all but vanished.

Any expectation that knowledge of a misstep could be confined to a tight inner circle disappeared with the dawn of the Internet age. Awareness that relationships between superiors and subordinates are disruptive has heightened as more women have populated the workplace.

Concern about the Senate's reputation and about the environment it offers its employees appears to have motivated Friday's disclosures. That concern is well-placed.

Maintaining public trust in government is difficult enough during these economically distressed and politically divided times, without Minnesotans thinking that a Senate leader's impropriety with a staff member is acceptable to the rest of the institution. Friday's news conference made clear that it is not.

That knowledge did not ease the news' sting. It had to be felt most painfully by those closest to Koch and her paramour. Many Minnesota hearts go out to those families.

One other group was understandably rankled by the news. Same-sex couples and those who favor justice for them under the state's marriage laws note that Koch led a caucus that sent a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage to the November 2012 ballot.

The sanctity of marriages between one man and one woman was a favorite GOP rationale for the party's plan to use the state Constitution to deny same-sex couples equal treatment under the law. The sincerity of that argument is now in question, Koch's critics say.

In this season of charity, we hope for a more charitable response from both sides of the state's same-sex marriage divide.

It should be evident all around that loving, committed-for-life relationships between two adults are much to be desired, but are not easy to attain or maintain. Whenever such a relationship is forged, it deserves society's respect and support.

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