Politics and Government

Walz, DFL chair call on Sen. Mitchell to resign; she says she won’t

A woman sits in an audience
State Sen. Nicole Mitchell takes a seat during a Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct hearing in St. Paul on May 7. The chair of the state DFL on Thursday called on Mitchell to resign.
Ben Hovland | MPR News file

Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin and DFL Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday called for the resignation of DFL state Sen. Nicole Mitchell, who was charged with burglary last month. Later in the day, though, Mitchell said through her lawyer she has no plans to step down.

“While Sen. Mitchell is entitled to her day in court, her continued refusal to take responsibility for her actions is beneath her office and has become a distraction for her district and the Legislature,” Martin said in a statement.

“Now that her constituents have had full representation through the end of the legislative session,” he added, “it is time for her to resign to focus on the personal and legal challenges she faces.”

Martin’s call came following the close of the Minnesota legislative session in which Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, provided the party the one-vote advantage to get many priority spending bills and policies across the finish line.

Republicans at the Capitol had called for her to step down almost immediately following news of her arrest at her stepmother’s home in Detroit Lakes.

There is some urgency around the call for Mitchell’s resignation now. If she resigns by the end of next week, it would put the special election on November’s ballot, aligned with the regular election. That would mean higher turnout than special elections typically produce for a winner-take-all race for the Senate majority.

Despite Martin’s call, DFL Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy reiterated her stance that Mitchell deserves a chance to defend herself in court and in ethics proceedings. She said she wouldn’t call for her colleague’s resignation now, but didn’t close the door to doing so in the future.

“This is a serious matter,” Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said in a phone interview. “Senator Mitchell has an important decision in front of her. I have a lot of respect and empathy for what she’s going through. I do. But my job as the leader of the caucus is to make sure we’re in a strong position to govern for the people of Minnesota.”

In a statement issued through her attorney Thursday, Mitchell said she does not plan to resign at this time.

“Sen. Mitchell has heard from many in her community who support her work and believe in her right to due process under the law. Therefore, until her criminal case is fully and finally adjudicated, Sen. Mitchell will continue to serve her constituents as the duly elected state senator from District 47,” the statement read.

In prior comments, Mitchell has said that all the facts about the alleged break-in were not known. She said in a social media post at the time that she was trying to retrieve items of her late father’s, including his ashes.

Her attorney, Bruce Ringstrom Jr., filed in court Wednesday to have the next hearing in her criminal case postponed to July 1 due to a scheduling conflict on his part. It is currently scheduled for June 10. Attorneys for the state agreed, according to the court filing.

Mitchell also faces ongoing ethics complaint proceedings in the Senate. Those were set to move forward days after the June court hearing but could be postponed. She has also been barred from committee and DFL caucus assignments but was allowed to cast floor votes in the final weeks of the legislative session.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson panned Martin for waiting as long as he did to seek the senator’s resignation.

“Democrats abused their political majority and embraced Sen. Mitchell because it served their political purposes instead of working in a bipartisan way for Minnesotans,” Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said in a written statement. “Anyone paying attention could see this coming — now that they no longer need her vote, they are ready to cast her aside.”

Martin’s statement on Thursday was issued a day before the start of the DFL’s state convention in Duluth.

Other top leaders have nudged Mitchell toward resignation without explicitly asking for it.

Walz said on last week’s Politics Friday show on MPR News that the incident involving Mitchell is “disturbing” and that “public servants need to be held to a higher standard.”

Asked Thursday about Walz’s stance given the DFL chair’s statement, a Walz spokesperson said the governor agreed with Martin and that Walz believes Mitchell needs to "refocus on personal matters."

MPR News senior politics reporter Clay Masters and MPR News politics fellow Ellie Roth contributed to this report.