State human rights commissioner is vocal opponent of proposed amendments

Kevin Lindsey
Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey, right, has been traveling the state speaking out against the proposed marriage amendment and the proposal voter ID amendment. Lindsey contends both measures are discriminatory, and that it's his job to oppose them. Lindsey spoke earlier this week at the Minneapolis Urban League office. At left is panel moderator Al McFarlane.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Another state official is coming under fire for publicly opposing the two constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

Three weeks after filing a complaint that accused Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for going too far in his criticism of the proposed voter ID amendment, Republican lawmakers have set their sights on state Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey.

Lindsey has been traveling the state speaking out against the amendment that would require votes to present photo identification at the polls and against the marriage amendment.

Lindsey contends both measures are discriminatory, and that it's his job to oppose them.

During a panel discussion earlier this week at the Minneapolis Urban League office, Lindsey described voter ID as a costly, unfunded mandate that would disenfranchise many voters. He said the amendment to define marriage as only between a man and a woman raises serious questions about the state's role in private relationships.

"We're educating people about both of the constitutional amendments and talking about how both are embedding discrimination in the constitution and taking away fundamental liberties and rights through the ballot box," Lindsey told his audience. "And in both instances, when you take a look to see what is going on, the answer for our office is quite clear, is that Minnesotans should be voting no."

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Appointed to his post by Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, Lindsey is unapologetic about taking such a strong stand or doing so in his official capacity as commissioner. Following the panel discussion, he explained that the state human rights act, which is intended to protect Minnesotans from discrimination, compels him to speak up.

"If I really believe that there are things going on in the state which are threatening democracy, then I'm really compelled to speak," he said. "So when I take a look at both of the constitutional amendments which are out there, it seems clear to me that I need to say and educate individuals about how passage of both of those amendments threatens our democracy in Minnesota."

Amendment supporters have loudly criticized Ritchie for his public comments about the ballot questions. Some Republican lawmakers claimed Ritchie overstepped his authority to try to defeat the measures. Although not an elected official, Lindsey also is taking some heat.

"I really do feel that he's wrong here," said state Sen., Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, chief author of the voter ID bill.

Lindsey may have violated state law, said Newman, who co-signed the formal complaint against Ritchie. Newman said members of the executive branch of government are prohibited from engaging in political activity while they're on the job.

"There's nothing ambiguous about his opposition to both of amendments, which as an individual he clearly has the right to take," he said. "But he does not have the right to use the prestige of his office to influence the outcome of either one of these amendments."

Newman said he will likely ask the Office of the Legislative Auditor to look into Lindsey's activities.

The chief Senate author of the marriage amendment also has concerns about the commissioner. State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove thinks Lindsey crossed the line and damaged his credibility.

Limmer, chairman of the judiciary and public safety committee that oversees the human rights department, said the commissioner's job is to always remain neutral on questions of discrimination until there's a formal investigation.

"This certainly would taint the commissioner on how he would review any issue of any complaint on discrimination now, because he's already suggesting that any opinion for traditional marriage is an act of discrimination," Limmer said. "I think it taints his whole operation."

Not surprisingly, Dayton doesn't share the GOP concerns about his commissioner. Press Secretary Katharine Tinucci said the governor supports Lindsey for "speaking the truth about the very detrimental effects" of the amendments.

Tinucci also said Dayton views the Republican complaints as an attempt to prevent a public official from sharing his honest perspectives with fellow citizens.