Minnesota ethics panel to consider how to deal with senator charged with burglary

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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ST. PAUL (AP) — A Minnesota Senate ethics panel on Tuesday is expected to begin considering what to do with a lawmaker who’s charged with burglary for allegedly breaking into her estranged stepmother’s house.

Democratic Sen. Nicole Mitchell, of Woodbury, told police she broke in last month because her stepmother refused to give her items of sentimental value from her late father, including his ashes, according to the felony complaint. Her attorney has said she deserves due process and won’t resign.

Mitchell’s status has posed a dilemma for her fellow Democrats because they hold a one-seat majority in the Senate, so they need her vote to pass anything that lacks bipartisan support. They have excluded her from caucus meetings and taken her off her committees but have not publicly asked her to quit.

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Mitchell resumed voting last week on the Senate floor, even on votes that affect her fate. Senate Republicans forced hours of debate on unsuccessful attempts to remove her, slowing the pace of legislation as the May 20 adjournment deadline nears.

The Senate GOP complaint alleges her actions “betray the public trust and bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, of East Grand Forks, who has called on Mitchell to resign, told reporters last week that she deserves due process in court. But, he said, the Senate should hold legislators to a higher standard, even if it’s politically difficult. He said it’s not right for Democrats to protect her because they need her vote.

“This is a serious charge and I hope the ethics committee takes this very seriously,” Johnson said.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, of St. Paul, told reporters last week that their caucus has not asked Mitchell to resign.

“We don’t know all the facts of this matter. It is both a serious matter and for many of us a heartbreaking matter,” Murphy told reporters. “Sen. Mitchell is entitled to due process both here in the ethics subcommittee and in the court of law. And she has hard and serious conversations that she needs to have with her family and her constituents.”

Johnson said he expects the panel will discuss whether there’s probable cause to investigate further. He said he expects they’ll go over police reports, her comments on social media and an interview that the stepmother gave to KSTP-TV in which she said she is fearful of Mitchell and disputing the senator’s assertion she was there to check on her well-being. But there will likely not be a decision on her fate Tuesday, Johnson said.

The ethics panel is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. If it doesn’t deadlock in a tie, it could ultimately recommend anything from a reprimand to expulsion.

No Senate seats would normally be on the ballot this November. But the state chairman of the Democratic Party in Minnesota, Ken Martin, said recently that he’d like for Mitchell to resign by June 8 so that her seat could be filled in a special election on election day. Mitchell represents a mostly Democratic suburban St. Paul district that would be easier for Democrats to hold if it’s on the November ballot when turnout should be high.

Mitchell’s next court date is set for June 10.

Before the ethics panel considers Mitchell’s case, it’s expected to consider a long dormant complaint filed by Democrats last year against Republican Sen. Glenn Gruenhagen, of Glencoe. He sent an email to colleagues during a debate over trans rights in the 2023 session that included a link to a medical school video showing gender-transition surgery. It included a note saying it documented “mutilating transgender surgeries on minor children. Extremely graphic and disturbing.”