The DFL’s leader in the state House of Representatives is not apologizing for a crack about white men during a floor speech that led at least one Republican colleague to demand on Tuesday she resign from her leadership post.
“I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate,” House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park said during a House session Monday evening.
Hortman then praised several speeches by female colleagues, including several women of color, that some members missed as they relaxed in the lounge-style room reserved for members just off the House floor.
Hortman said in an interview later Tuesday that she might have expressed her objection differently, but said, “I’m not sorry for speaking out for colleagues who were being ignored.”
But at least several Republican lawmakers took umbrage. The spat broke out during debate on whether protesters who block freeways or airport and transit access should face stiffer criminal penalties.
“I’m a white male. I respect everybody,” Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, said after Hortman’s remarks. “But I really believe the comments made by the minority leader were really not appropriate. Minority leader, would you apologize to the body?”
Hortman, who is white, replied: “I have no intention of apologizing.” She added that she was “really tired of watching women of color in particular being ignored. So I’m not sorry.”
Dettmer countered: “All I know is that if I would have made a comment like that, it would have made the front page of the newspapers. And minority leader, I do forgive you.”
One of those playing cards was a DFLer, she said.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, on Tuesday called Hortman’s comment “racist.” If she’s unwilling to apologize, he said, she should resign as DFL leader.
“Her comments were extremely offensive and divisive [and] created a hostile work environment,” Davids said in an interview. “I couldn’t believe she singled out a race and a sex like that.”
Davids called it a breach of House protocol for Hortman to talk about “what goes on in the House retiring room.” And he criticized the speeches.
“First of all, the speeches weren’t that good,” he said. “They were amazingly repetitive and boring.”
Staff writer J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.