Minnesota part of the mess

Tom Heffelfinger’s concern of disenfranchising American Indians put a target on his back.

In recent weeks, the scandal at the U.S. Department of Justice involving the firing of federal prosecutors for political reasons has expanded. The scandal now includes some disturbing new information about our own state, information that ought to trouble anyone who cares about the rule of law and the trust we place in elected officials to make sure our votes are counted properly.

Since news broke that former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, who had resigned of his own volition in February of 2006, was on the list of federal prosecutors to be fired, former Justice Department White House liaison Monica Goodling testified to the Senate that the reason for Heffelfinger’s presence on the list was because he devoted too much time to American Indian issues. By itself, such a statement is a disgusting affront and is woefully ignorant of the discrimination and hardship still faced by American Indians every day.

It now appears, according to a recent report by the Los Angeles Times, that the real source of the Justice Department’s unhappiness with Heffelfinger was that he had voiced concerns that a change in state law and a directive from then-Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer’s office would disenfranchise American Indian voters before the 2004 elections. Kiffmeyer, you’ll remember, had tried to disenfranchise University students in last November’s elections, the same election in which she was ousted from her post.

Her directive was that tribal IDs could not be used off the reservation, even though many American Indians don’t have any other form of ID. Heffelfinger contacted the Department of Justice about the issue, and three months later was on the list of prosecutors to be fired. Even being concerned about American Indian voters, who largely vote Democratic, is apparently enough to put a target on your back.

Other attorneys were fired for their refusal to prosecute phony voter-fraud cases, and it can no longer be denied by any rational person that this was a wholly partisan purging of those attorneys who couldn’t be counted on to do a politicized Justice Department’s bidding. It’s shameful that the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office soiled itself in this mess.