Incident near Planned Parenthood causes legislator to lose chairmanship of House committee on environment and finance.
Rep. Tom Hackbarth, the Republican legislator who was found by police carrying a gun near a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul, was deposed as head of a key legislative committee Wednesday.
In a brief statement, incoming House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Hackbarth had been suspended from "any current and pending leadership roles" within the House Republican caucus. Last week, as the Republicans prepared to assume the majority in the Minnesota House in January, the 16-year legislator had been named to chair the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.
Hackbarth had in recent years pushed proposals to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium with a constitutional amendment that would use money from slot machines installed at the state's two horse racing tracks. At a rally on the State Capitol steps a year ago, Hackbarth had spoken to supporters of a new stadium along with former Vikings players.
Hackbarth did not return phone calls Wednesday, but on Tuesday he had called the incident a "misunderstanding."
Police in St. Paul stopped Hackbarth, 58, on Nov. 16, two weeks after the legislator from Cedar had easily won reelection. Hackbarth, who said he was going through a divorce and had a gun permit, told police he had a met a woman via an Internet dating service, but was suspicious she was seeing another man and was attempting to investigate.
Hackbarth, who was not arrested but was briefly handcuffed, also told police he did not know he had parked in a Planned Parenthood lot.
"Hackbarth admitted that it all looked bad," the report stated, and added that police officers had to then help him start his truck because it had a dead battery.
Kathi Di Nicola, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said the organization's office had closed an hour before Hackbarth's pickup was seen in the parking lot. "That parking lot was completely empty if you look at the surveillance video," she said.
Cory Merrifield, a founder of SavetheVikes, a group pushing for a new Vikings stadium, said he was surprised by the incident.
"This all seems very out of character," he said. Only last month, Hackbarth attended a SavetheVikes rally near the Metrodome for a new stadium along with Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner.
"He's a very laid-back guy," said Merrifield.
"Some politicians seem like politicians, but Rep. Hackbarth has always seemed like an everyday, normal guy," he said. "That's an ally we're losing, but the show must go on, I guess."
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673
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