A Republican state senator is facing criticism for golfing during a remote committee hearing this week.
Video of a Thursday meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee shows Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, driving in a car, walking outdoors and sitting in a golf cart as he addressed colleagues via Zoom. At one point, a DFL senator chimed in to say he wanted to “ask Sen. Jensen how’s he hitting them out there,” prompting laughter from the committee’s chair.
Jensen, a doctor who serves as vice chair of the committee, attracted national attention and scrutiny after recent comments questioning federal guidelines on counting coronavirus deaths went viral, fueling conspiracy theories online.
The new video sparked fresh criticism from top Minnesota Democrats. Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said the senator should apologize, saying “the fact that Jensen cannot be bothered to do his job is an insult to those Minnesotans who have lost work and who are suffering due to the outbreak.” Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, called the conduct “completely inappropriate.”
“His actions were disrespectful not only to Minnesotans but to all of our Senate colleagues and staff who are working incredibly hard to respond to the public health emergency we are currently in,” she said. “It is disappointing that the irresponsible actions of one member could reflect poorly on the entire Senate body.”
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka did not respond to a request for comment.
Jensen confirmed that he was golfing during the hearing, but said he was “fully engaged” in the discussion. He likened his actions to others babysitting or cooking during Zoom meetings.
“I had my laptop and phone and charger and yes, I was enjoying the weather,” he said. “I don’t see it as an issue. I was paying attention.”
The freshman legislator said he had made plans to golf with a group that included his campaign treasurer Thursday afternoon, expecting the hearing to last 45 minutes or less. He said his bid to “multi-task in a tight way didn’t work out” when the meeting stretched longer due to amendments and the tee time started early. He decided to participate from the course rather than cancel.
“I was never unengaged,” he said. “Whether I was hitting a couple of practice chip shots or putting on the putting green, I was never not attending.”
A DFL state senator who serves on the committee challenged Jensen’s characterization of the hearing, which focused on a health care policy bill expected to advance in the final three weeks of the session.
“It started on time and adjourned on schedule,” said Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights.“It was also universally understood as our last opportunity to draft a bipartisan omnibus this year to address the ... health and health system challenges our state will face.”
Video shows Jensen in the car within five minutes of the meeting starting and outside less than 15 minutes later.
Jensen, who is not seeking re-election, said he was with patients Friday and hadn’t seen the criticism. “I can certainly understand why they’re going to have a heyday,” he said. “I try not to get too excited about optics.”