I, for one, would appreciate it if politicians `fess up when they’ve made a mistake. But I suppose that’s too much to ask, especially in an election year.
I mention that because of something that happened this week in Eldred, Minnesota.
If you go to the Facebook page of Eldred, you will see a photograph of a grain elevator accompanying the brief description of the hamlet — brief because there’s not much to talk about. Eldred is an unincorporated community in the sparsely populated Roome Township — less than 200 people, according the U.S. Census Bureau — in Polk County.
Hit the link that reads “Things to do in Eldred, Minnesota” and it will take you to a map of roads leading out of town and the cities nearby. It’s 25 miles to Fertile, but just 5½ miles to Climax.
But there was something to do in Eldred this past Monday when GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson stopped by that grain elevator to talk to voters and to field a few questions. You can watch the entire event — about 30 minutes in all — on YouTube.
I mention all of this because, much to our surprise here at the newspaper, we were brought up in the conversation.
What happened was this: When Mr. Johnson opened the floor up for questions, a woman in the audience asked about Highway 2 — a highway that traverses the state from Grand Forks to Duluth and passes through Crookston, just 10 miles northeast of Eldred. What the woman wanted to know was something about a comment that Mr. Johnson’s running mate, Bill Kuisle, made about Highway 2.
The comment was one that Mr. Kuisle made to the Owatonna People’s Press reporter Matt Hudson in an article that appeared in this paper in July (“Gov. running mate Kuisle talks roads cannabis, MNsure”). In their conversation, Mr. Kuisle told Matt that a section of Highway 2 — a section that cuts across the northern part of the state — is now a four-lane road but should have stayed two lanes.
The woman in Eldred wanted to know what Mr. Johnson thought of Mr. Kuisle’s comment that Highway 2 should have remained a two-lane road. Mr. Johnson’s response was to blame the People’s Press.
“The newspaper actually acknowledged they misquoted him,” Mr. Johnson said.
Uh, no, we never said any such thing. In fact, we have consistently stood by the story and made neither a retraction nor a correction to the story because that’s exactly what Mr. Kuisle said.
The statement back in July was first picked up not by the DFL but by former Minority Leader Marty Seifert, who was running against Mr. Johnson in August’s Republican primary. Mr. Seifert tried to make the statement a campaign issue, but that attempt fizzled.
However, it didn’t fizzle before we — first Matt and then I — received telephone calls from the Johnson campaign asking to see a transcript of the interview between Matt and Mr. Kuisle. We declined for the simple reason that we don’t give out transcripts of interviews. Period.
Between calls, Matt transcribed the section of the interview in question so I could read it, and then played a recording of the interview for me.
That, by the way, is why we never said that we misquoted Mr. Kuisle because we didn’t.
But the Johnson campaign kept pushing us to release the transcript. So one morning in July, I called the Johnson aide so persistent in going after the transcript. I got his voice mail and left him a message.
I told him that we would release the transcript of the section of the interview in question, but that we were going to release it not only to the Johnson campaign, but to his opponents in the primary as well.
We never heard back from the campaign, so we figured they no longer wanted it.
And, in fact, we thought the whole question had died down until the Eldred statement by Mr. Johnson in which he claimed that we acknowledged misquoting his running mate.
By way of full disclosure, we found out about the Eldred statement from Jeremy Drucker, whose email identified him as working in communications for "Mark Dayton for a Better Minnesota." We are confident that we were alerted for less-than-altruistic reasons. Our guess is that someone in the Dayton camp thinks he or she can make some political hay out of this.
And it very well could because, as anyone who has followed the continuing saga of Highway 14 here can attest to, when you’re talking about expansion of roads from two lanes to four lanes, people get pretty passionate when it comes to talking roads.
But for the record, here’s what the exchange was between Matt and Mr. Kuisle. Matt was talking about the way in which the Minnesota Department of Transportation prioritizes it jobs and how some folks belief that prioritizing could use “a little refining.” That’s when Mr. Kuisle interrupted and said the following:
“Absolutely,” Mr. Kuisle said. “We’ve always kind of have a hands-off with the Legislature that we didn’t say these projects had to be done because it becomes too political then. Uh, you have a kind of a — first, you have the feds, and uh, [former Congressman Jim] Oberstar, from the northern part of the state, used to be great at this. He’d earmark something, a road to be done in northern Minnesota. Highway 2, everybody points at. It’s a four-lane highway across the northern part of the state, and it should be a two-lane. But he got it for his district and the state then has to match the dollars.”
Yes, Mr. Kuisle said that it should be a two-lane road. Is that what he meant? Perhaps not. Is that what Mr. Johnson, the man who would be governor, thinks as well? Perhaps not. But it doesn’t change the fact that that’s what Mr. Kuisle said.
And it doesn’t justify the Johnson campaign claiming that Mr. Kuisle was misquoted and certainly doesn’t justify Mr. Johnson’s claim that we acknowledged a misquote.
We repeat: We did not misquote him and never acknowledged that we did. And our attempts this week to set the record straight by calling the Johnson camp went unheeded. We still haven’t heard back.
Here’s a thought for anyone running for office: When you misspeak — and you’re going to misspeak because you’re only human and humans misspeak from time to time — acknowledge the mistake and move on. Don’t blame the messenger just because he’s repeated your message.