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Minn. GOP lawmaker rips microphone out of challenger's hand, lobs it back to her during legislative forum in Rochester

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During a legislative forum Tuesday night, Oct. 9, incumbent GOP state Rep. Duane Quam (R—25A) ripped the microphone out of DFL challenger Jamie Mahlberg's hands in a heated exchange. Courtesy photo / City of Rochester2 / 2

ROCHESTER, Minn. — A Minnesota state lawmaker is making national headlines after a video clip showing him ripping a microphone away from his challenger and then lobbing it back towards her during an event here Monday, Oct. 8, spread online.

The incident occurred during a legislative forum at the Rochester Public Library sponsored by the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government.

The forum was an open debate between incumbent GOP state Rep. Duane Quam (R-25A) and DFL challenger Jamie Mahlberg.

Quam, of Byron, Minn., is seeking a fifth two-year term in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and represents portions of Dodge and Olmsted counties in southeastern Minnesota. Mahlberg is a political newcomer seeking her first-ever bid for elective office.

Both Quam and Mahlberg were asked this question: "Would you support putting an automatic increase on the general education formula to match the consumer price index rate of increase the previous year?"

Quam was the first to respond to the question. After giving an answer that lasted about a minute, he then gently handed the microphone over to Mahlberg, who then proceeded to give her answer.

After giving a 30-second response, Quam, while Mahlberg was looking the other direction, quickly reached across the table and snatched the microphone from her right hand. The incident left Mahlberg startled, as her facial expression showed in the video, which was carried live Monday on the city of Rochester's website.

According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, exchanges between candidates at forums organized by the league are fairly well regulated. Candidates are given one-minute responses to questions and take turns handing the microphone back and forth. When a candidate wants to make a rebuttal, he or she is supposed to hold up a green "rebuttal" slip and waits for the mic, according to the Post-Bulletin.

In the video, Quam can be seen raising his green rebuttal card as he leaned over to grab the microphone away. Murmurs could be heard in the crowd of attendees immediately following the incident.

With the microphone in hand, Quam then proceeds to give an impassioned rebuttal to his opponents answer.

"The problem we've got in education is we are funding failure," Quam said. "What we need to do is fund success."

After his rebuttal was over, Quam then motioned to hand the microphone back to Mahlberg. After it was evident that Mahlberg wasn't going to be grabbing the microphone from Quam, he then tossed the microphone onto the table in front of his opponent.

In the video following the incident, a voice can be heard saying "wow," which summed up Mahlberg's feelings after the forum had ended.

"How would anybody feel being on the receiving end of that kind of disrespect?" Mahlberg told the Post-Bulletin. "I was very startled and taken aback and ultimately disappointed."

Forum News Service reached out to Mahlberg and Quam for comment, but did not receive a response.

Mahlberg told the Post-Bulletin that she has no intention of using the microphone incident as a campaign ploy against Quam.

"I respect Jamie and my actions at Monday night's forum did not reflect that," Quam told the Post-Bulletin.

After the video of the incident spread on Twitter Tuesday, national media outlets began catching wind of the incident. The Washington Post, Huffington Post and The Hill have all since picked up the story.

"Unfortunately, my nerves got the best of me with our timed responses and I was not as graceful as I should have been while we shared the microphone," Quam said. "My sincere apologies to Jamie and I look forward to continuing a positive campaign."

Ross Torgerson

Digital Reporter for Forum Communications. Native of Moorhead, Minn. Have a question or story idea? Email me at rtorgerson@forumcomm.com. Follow me on Twitter @RossTorgerson