Democrats in the Minnesota Senate have filed an ethics complaint against a top Republican leader in the continuing fallout from the scandal involving former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and Senate staffer Michael Brodkorb.
State Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina brought dishonor and disrepute to the Senate by not taking action to fully and swiftly address an affair between Koch and Brodkorb.
Pappas also said Michel "betrayed the public's trust" by making false and public statements about when learned that Koch, R-Buffalo, was involved with Brodkorb, the former Senate Republican caucus spokesman.
"There should be a public apology on the floor of the Senate for lying and for not providing due diligence and pursuing this issue when he first heard about it, for participating in a cover-up," Pappas said of Michel. "I just don't think it's appropriate behavior on the part of a sitting senator."
Michel, who served as Deputy Majority Leader when Koch was in charge, is the first person to bring concerns about the affair to human resources officials in the Senate. He did that in September after Koch's former chief of staff, Cullen Sheehan, told him that both Koch and Brodkorb had confirmed the affair to him.
But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Democrats are concerned because Michel didn't confront Koch about the affair until November — more than two months after he learned of it.
Pappas and Bakk say they want to know why Michel waited, and that there are other unanswered questions concerning the sequence of events. For example, they want to know who Michel approached about the affair, because Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman said he didn't learn of it in September.
Ludeman fired Brodkorb in December.
Michel repeatedly has said that he hoped to give Koch and Brodkorb time to "do the right thing." He also said he initially misled reporters about when he learned about the matter to protect Sheehan.
Bakk said Democrats are focusing on Michel because they believe he misled the public. Bakk said they will not file a complaint against Koch, who after stepping down as majority leader, announced in December that she would not run for re-election.
"Senator Koch has already paid a significant price in her personal life and in her life here in the Legislature as a leader," Bakk said. "I think that would probably appear as piling on."
In February, Michel announced that he too would not run for re-election, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. He declined an interview request but in a statement said the complaint is about "politics and payback and has nothing to do with ethics."
Michel said the conflict of interest has been resolved and the workplace environment has improved as a result of his actions.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he stands by Michel.
"I think Sen. Michel was acting in a steadfast and judicious manner and I think that will be shown in the process," Senjem said.
Senjem and Michel were among a group of four Republican senators who in December confronted Koch about the affair. She resigned her position one day later, at the time saying she was doing so to "explore some other options."
A day after that, Michel, Senjem and two other senators held a news conference disclosing Koch's inappropriate relationship. Senjem said he believes Michel handled the situation appropriately.
"I don't think there's a recipe for this and we talked about that many times," Senjem said. "There is no cookbook that you can go to to deal with things like that. You deal with them as directly as you can, as properly as you can. That's what Sen. Michel did. That's what we all did."
Senjem said he expects the Senate Ethics Committee to dismiss the complaint.
State Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, chairman of the Ethics Committee, said she did not know when she would hold a hearing on the complaint.
Brodkorb said last week that he intends to sue the Senate for gender discrimination. His attorneys argue that he was fired because he had an affair with Koch and claim that they will prove female staffers who had relationships with male lawmakers did not lose their jobs. Brodkorb is seeking at least $500,000 in damages.