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By Laura McCallum
September 18, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
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THE MINNESOTA REPUBLICAN PARTY is spending $150,000 on a television ad attacking DFL gubernatorial candidate Skip Humphrey. The ad targets Humphrey for votes he made as a state senator, including one to reduce the sentence for marijuana possession. But those votes came 25 years ago - back around the time Humphrey's Republican opponent admits he was a pot-smoking college student.

Ad clip: Skip Humphrey tells us he's tough on crime. The facts say something else. As a legislator he voted to decriminalize drugs and reduce the minimum sentence for murder to 15 years.

(Listen to entire ad in RealAudio 2.0 14.4)

Republicans have been harping on these two 1973 Humphrey votes for weeks now, first in radio ads and now in their latest television spot. As the ad claims, Humphrey backed a bill that reduced the penalty for possessing a small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a petty offense with a maximum $100 fine. According to news reports at the time, five drug experts urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying marijuana was "relatively mild" compared to other drugs. Humphrey says his vote has been taken out of context. In an interview shortly before the election, he defended his decision.
Humphrey: If you'll recall, 25 years ago what was happening is that we had police officers and others that were literally breaking into homes and arresting people and violating the sense of privacy that people had, and we were not getting at the major problem of how you move drugs, how drugs got marketed, how we were dealing with that. We wanted to give focus to that kind of energy, as opposed to the other kind of situation.
Humphrey's other vote that's come under fire was called the "Murderer's Parole Bill", which reduced the minimum sentence for first-degree murderers to 15 years, as the GOP ad points out. Governor Wendell Anderson later vetoed the bill. Humphrey defends this vote as well, saying it needs to be considered in context.
Humphrey: The average stay at the time was lower than what those sentences were - we made it realistic. And we actually now ... Minnesota has some of the strongest laws on the books and the longest-actual served terms. You used to have the indeterminate sentence back then, and you used to be able to say, "Yeah, we're sending the key away!" But the actual time that people stayed in was very, very short.
Humphrey's Republican opponent, Norm Coleman, says it's fair to challenge Humphrey on his legislative record - he says those votes show Humphrey was a liberal 30 years ago and hasn't changed. Coleman, on the other hand, says he has changed since the late '60s, when he was a long-haired liberal college student and not - he points out - a public official.
Coleman: Was I at Woodstock? Yeah. Did I get high? Yes. And do I look back on that and afterward see the impact that drugs have had on my family, on my friends, and my community? And what do I tell my kids? I think what you tell them is that don't do what I did, if you did that. Don't do what I did. And I think the difference here is with the attorney general, there's been no change in pattern.
It may be difficult for Coleman to hold Humphrey accountable for a 25-year-old vote while saying voters shouldn't hold him accountable for using drugs 30 years ago.

A campaign advertising analyst says the GOP ad is misleading. Public affairs consultant Dean Alger - who helped organize the non-partisan election watchdog group called the Minnesota Compact - says the problem is that the ad obscures the difference between Humphrey's legislative votes and his record as Attorney General. Alger says viewers may assume that both represent Humphrey's current views. Alger says the Minnesota Compact's advertising code says it's legitimate to criticize a candidate's record, but not to take issues out of context.

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