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Lawmakers' Twitter tangles, a brief history

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Minnesota campaigns, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: March 10, 2014 - 2:22 PM

With just 140 characters at their disposal on Twitter, Minnesota lawmaker and their staff have found plenty of ways to get in trouble.

On Sunday night, Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo sent out a tweet linking NBA players to street crime. The tweet produced a firestorm of criticism and was called racist nationwide. On Monday morning, Garofalo said he sincerely apologized for the message.

The five-term state lawmaker had bipartisan company in his Twitter turmoil.

Last year, Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler tweeted of U.S. Supreme Court's voting rights act decision, that the “VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas.” The reference to Clarence Thomas, the only African American member of the Supreme Court, with the racial epithet was shared around the country. Winkler, who had been contemplating a run for Secretary of State at the time, deleted the tweet and said he didn't understand the reference would be offensive.

The year before, then-Republican Senate staffer Bob Koss tangled with then-Republican state Rep. John Kriesel over same-sex marriage, shortly before a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was on the ballot. Koss lost his Senate job in the wake of the late night tweeting.

In 2011, then-state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, tweeted that Democratic Sen. Barb Goodwin called people with mental illness "idiots and imbeciles" during a Senate floor debate. Goodwin was, in fact, disparaging the historic terms used for people with mental illness. That incident resulted in an ethics complaint. The ethics panel met for five hours and decided the complaint would be dropped if Hoffman apologized, which she did.

And in 2009, as Twitter was dawning as a way for lawmakers to share their thoughts, Democratic Rep. Paul Gardner used the messaging service during a floor session to suggest that Republican Rep. Tom Emmer was nastier to women during debate than he was to men and that Republican Rep. Mark Buesgens had a black eye. Gardner, too, was brought up on ethics charges and issued a public apology.

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