As his official campaign kickoff approaches, Sen. Norm Coleman on Monday scolded DFL opponent Al Franken for a 12-year-old video that includes Franken reading a racy passage in a faux-Asian accent from one of his books of political satire.
The video, excerpted by Republican blogger Michael Brodkorb from YouTube.com, shows Franken in 1996 reading from his New York Times bestseller "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations."
The portion at issue is part of a fantasy story that Franken concocted about former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich serving in the Vietnam War and meeting a "pouty sex kitten" at a bar in Saigon.
"'Could you sit athwart my chest,' Gingrich asked excitedly, 'and make me do terrible things?'" reads Franken.
"'You number ten GI. You disgust me.' She spit in his face and walked away."
Said Coleman, in a statement his campaign released Monday: "I fail to see how [Franken] needs to play into stereotypes of cultures in order to attack those he opposes. I find this video to be extremely insensitive and out of bounds.
"Franken's supposed satire is debasing and degrading. It violates basic decency and dignity."
Campaign officials for Franken, a longtime satirist, noted that the passage was taken from a book that jabs conservatives from Limbaugh to Bob Dole and that has typically been stocked in the humor section of bookstores.
"This is yet another desperate and cynical attempt to distract Minnesotans from the real issues," said Franken spokesman Andy Barr. "We all know the difference between what a satirist says and what a senator does. And this year alone, what Norm Coleman has done is vote to extend the war in Iraq and against increasing veterans' health care, for torture and against middle class tax cuts. He'll resort to anything to distract Minnesotans from that abysmal record."
Franken and college professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer are actively seeking the DFL Party's endorsement to run against Coleman. Other DFL candidates are Darryl Stanton and Dick Franson.
Although Coleman suggested that Franken's video performance exploited racial stereotypes, two members of the Twin Cities Asian community said they didn't find it offensive.
Kao Ly Ilean Her, executive director of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, a nonpolitical state agency that advocates on behalf of the state's Asian community, said that the video wasn't funny but that she didn't take it as Franken espousing his personal views. "He's a satirist, and he uses stories to poke at Republicans," said Her, who emphasized she has no role with either campaign.
Rep. Cy Thao, DFL-St. Paul, who has endorsed Franken, didn't see the video but said Monday night that he's been impressed with Franken's concern for the Asian community in Minnesota. Franken offered to raise money to resolve the recent grave desecration issue in Thailand, he said, while Coleman organized his own group to go there without consulting Thao or Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul.
Coleman will kick off his campaign next week with a rally at his campaign headquarters in St. Paul and a four-day tour of Minnesota.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455