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Ethics complaint lodged against Lindner
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Rep. Arlon Lindner says he doesn't regret his comments but is sorry that some considered them racist. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he'll expedite an ethics hearing on Republican Arlon Lindner. House DFLers filed a complaint against the Corcoran Republican for allegedly making inappropriate comments about homosexuals and African Americans. They say Lindner's comments have harmed the reputation of the Minnesota House. Sviggum says the Republican caucus also denounces the comments but says he's not sure if the comments rise to an ethics violation.

St. Paul, Minn. — House DFLers say they're filing the complaint because Lindner said he believed that German Nazi leaders responsible for the holocaust were gay. He also said that he's concerned that homosexuality and the rise in sexually transmitted diseases could make the nation look like the "African continent." Those comments came in response to criticism from a holocaust survivor and several Jewish community groups blasting Lindner for saying homosexuals were not persecuted during World War II.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, says Lindner's viewpoints are offensive. "His cruel lies, his language, his refusal to have the basic decency to apologize calls on me to denounce him in the strongest possible terms. It also requires the Republican leadership in the House to join me."

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Image House Speaker Steve Sviggum

Entenza says he's disappointed that no House Republicans criticized Lindner's comments Monday on the House floor.

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, says Lindner should no longer chair the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee because the comments harm the state's image. Clark, the only openly gay House member, has criticized Lindner for his bill that would remove state human rights protection for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. She says Lindner needs to be disciplined by the House.

"He needs to be taken up on the kind of process on the House, which is when this kind of offense is committed by somebody -- particularly in leadership and continues to be in leadership -- he must be required to undergo the kind of training and sensitivity and diversity that we have required of other members in the past," Clark said.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he'll move quickly to hold an ethics hearings on Lindner's comments. Sviggum says he considered asking Lindner to step down as chairman. He says he decided against it because the move might make House members reluctant to speak out on a subject for fear of retribution.

"I don't think that we want to take this to the ultimate end and put that chilling effect upon speech, upon feeling, upon values and principals that one has or doesn't have in this entire process," Sviggum said.

Sviggum says he believes Lindner has a right to free speech even if the comments are considered offensive. He says House Republicans didn't complain when House DFLers made what they considered offensive comments.

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Image Rep. Karen Clark

Lindner says will not step down as chair. He says he doesn't regret his comments but is sorry that some considered them racist. Lindner says he should have specified one African country that is being decimated by AIDS. He says he will continue his research on homosexuality in Nazi Germany to get all sides on this issue.

"I still believe in the First Amendment -- that we're allowed to express our views and so forth -- and it's getting close to maybe not being able to do that, but while we can, I'm doing it," Lindner said.

Gov. Pawlenty says he's deeply troubled by Lindner's comments. He has said he wouldn't sign Lindner's proposed human rights repeal legislation as written. "I understand there's going to be an ethics committee process to look at those words and an appropriate sanction. I think we we should let that run its course. From my standpoint , his comments and perspective certainly do not reflect where the Republican Party is or should be," Pawlenty said.

But Pawlenty says he does have concerns about portions of the current law. He said during the gubernatorial campaign that his vote on the human rights amendment is the one vote he regrets.

DFL House members say they'll consider asking the chair of the House Ethics Committee to recuse herself from Lindner's hearings.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, is a co-author to the bill that would remove sexual orientation from human rights protection. She declined comment except to say she'll handle the complaint appropriately.

Speaker Sviggum says he doesn't think her views would harm her ability to chair the committee.

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