Friday, March 17, 2006

Dean Johnson "embellished" his comments to pastors

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:59 AM |  

Well, it looks like the Strib is now the official owner of the Dean Johnson story. Did I mention we must all be working for McClatchy now?

In the Strib’s coverage today, Sen. Dean Johnson edges ever closer to the truth. The problem is, as pointed out in comments to previous posts, he hasn’t reached the point where he actually clears the cloud he cast on the integrity of the state Supreme Court.

This issue is about Johnson, whether or not he lied or “embellished” his comments, only to the extent that he affirms the integrity of the Court on the same-sex marriage amendment specifically and ethically in general. This issue ultimately is about the Court and not Johnson and not even about the marriage amendment.

The Strib Editorial Board has it just about right.

Editorial: Johnson has more apologies to make
Senate leader crossed a line in comments about the court.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson did some apologizing Wednesday, and needs to do some more.

The DFL senator from Willmar got caught on tape implying that he had assurances about the outcome of possible gay marriage litigation from state Supreme Court justices that the justices vow and he now says he does not have.

Even if Johnson was only voicing his own inference from his acquaintance with several justices and a casual conversation with one of them, he was out of line. He called into question the impartiality of the court -- a serious blunder for which he apologized on Wednesday.

He also created an impression that was, at best, misleading to his audience -- a gathering of his fellow clergy in New London, Minn. Johnson, a Lutheran minister, owes his peers an apology. He owes one also to the thousands of Minnesotans who subsequently heard his words on tape.

His allies in the effort to keep a same-sex union ban out of the Constitution deserve to hear a mea culpa too. That effort is undercut when its Senate leader's veracity is in doubt.

But promoters of a constitutional ban on same-sex unions are overreaching when they accuse Johnson of tampering with the judicial process.

[I may have missed it, but I haven’t heard anybody of accusing Johnson of tampering with the Supreme Court. As noted above by the Strib, his sin is using the stature of the Supreme Court to provide false assurances that Minnesota’s marriage law is safe from judicial review. He never, to my knowledge, tried to influence or “tamper” with the decision-making process of the Court]
Nothing in Johnson's words in New London or any statements since, by Johnson or the justices, reveals such an attempt. Neither has Johnson's error in any way strengthened the case for permanently embedding discrimination into the state's legal foundation.
[Again, the Strib is correct. However, Johnson’s remarks do raise the issue about how he has bottled up the amendment and kept it from a committee vote. Although I oppose the amendment and would like to see it voted down by the full Senate, Johnson’s tactic is not good for the democratic process.

As another commenter noted, keeping the bill from debate in the bright lights of the Senate limits debate to small meetings such as the New London meeting and others. When individuals, both proponents and opponents of the amendment can deliver their message to small groups, they can spin the message to fit the audience. That’s what Johnson did with the pastors. I will bet that he would never have made comments naming state Supreme Court justices on the floor of the Senate. But a meeting of a dozen or so pastors in New London -- he might get away with it. Indeed, if reports are accurate that he made these comments at a number of gatherings, one can only assume he did it intentionally. ]
As journalists can attest, many politicians are given to speaking in a way that makes fact, speculation, inference and opinion difficult to parse.

After 30 years in public office, Johnson is fluent in that kind of rhetoric. But he used it inappropriately in New London, leaving an impression that stretched the truth.

As he should know better than most, confession and apology are good for the soul.
[Sorry but I can’t resist. Is the Star Tribune implying that having religious faith makes a difference in a person’s life?]

The Strib also notes that State Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson will appear on Twin Cities Public Television's ''Almanac'' show tonight to discuss his comments on the gay marriage law.
The show airs on Channel 2 at 7 p.m. and Johnson is expected to be on the air about 7:30