Idiocy is not unethical

There are times to feel good about the productive workings of government. And then there are times like these. On Monday, after 2.5 hours, the Minnesota House Ethics Committee tabled its proposed censure of Rep. Arlon Lindner, R-Corcoran. The committee was considering censure because of Lindner’s biased remarks. Lindner’s outrageous comments include gems such as: Nazi persecution of gays and lesbians is fabricated history, and the Dalai Lama is a cult leader. He also curiously declared on the House floor, “If you want to sit around and wait until America becomes another African continent, you do that Ö But I’m going to do something about it.” Regardless of any individual’s reaction to these comments, the Legislature must respect Lindner’s right to make them. The proper venue to try Lindner is not the court of the Ethics Committee but the court of public opinion. Individuals, including legislators, have the right to free speech no matter how badly abused.

The ethical violation being considered here is a politician espousing a political view. This is not something that should be censured, but encouraged. The good voters of Corcoran are now familiar with Lindner’s views. If they choose to re-elect him, so goes democracy. If they choose to throw him out, so goes Lindner. But it is their voice, not the voice of the Ethics Committee, which should be heard. It would be antidemocratic to allow Lindner any leash on free speech other than none.

It might behoove the Legislature to have the Ethics Committee focused on the issue of incendiary speech instead of substantive internal matters such as conflicts of interest, fiscal impropriety and suspect campaign donations. It does not, however, serve the public. In the end, the true awfulness of this case is not the words Lindner said, but the taxpayer money that is being wasted debating them.