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Committee clears Republican senator over meeting rejection

Minnesota Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, testifies before a Senate ethics committee. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota Senate committee on Wednesday refused to pursue ethics charges against a senator whose aide rejected a meeting with nurses because their association supported his election opponent.

After five hours, the Senate ethics committee unanimously agreed there was not enough evidence to further investigate Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, for violating legislative rules.

Newman said the charges against him hindered him in doing his job.

Sen. Kenneth Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, was one of four senators who accused Newman of only allowing supporters to meet with him.

He said those who filed the complaint will discuss if there is anything further they can do.

Kelash said the complaint was filed to see who told the aide to reject the nurses' meeting.

That information ultimately never came out at the hearing.

Newman told the committee that his 20-something legislative assistant sent a Jan. 20 e-mail turning down a requested meeting with the Minnesota Nurses Association.

"It's not my language," he said. "I didn't prepare it."

The four DFL senators filed an ethics, saying the rejection on political grounds put the entire Senate in a bad light, which violates Senate rules. But Newman's attorney, Fritz Knaak, told the committee that even if Newman refused the meeting on political grounds, there is no rule against it.

Knaak, however, said Newman has met with the nurses' group and the senator said it is not his policy to only meet with his supporters. He said his aide, Kim Kelley, now knows that.

Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul, one of those who filed the complaint, told the committee that the message Newman's office sent was: "The door to their elected representative has a toll. ... This is wrong."

Newman said he has not talked to Kelley about the incident, out of fear he would be accused of interfering with the Senate ethics process. And he said he has no idea why she turned down the request; he said he had not told her that was his policy.

The senator said he expects the issue to be raised if he runs for re-election next year.

Newman said he now makes sure he meets with supporters and opponents alike.

"I'm probably the most approachable senator up here," he said.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.