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Vergas senator in hot water after late night tweet

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman (R-Vergas) shown here during senate debate in April. Don Davis/Forum Communications

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, is in hot water after a Wednesday night tweet.

An ethics complaint was filed today against Hoffman by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, for a Twitter comment Hoffman made regarding Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights.

Hoffman tweeted around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday that Goodwin used derogatory names when referring to people with mental illnesses.

Hoffman's tweet stated: "Sen. Goodwin just called people with mental illness-idiots and imbeciles-while debating HHS bill #offensive #mndfl #mnsrc #mnleg."

This was after Goodwin approached the floor to debate cuts in the Health and Human Service bill.

"I'm concerned this is a rationing of healthcare in other parts of the bill," Goodwin said, referring to the Omnibus Health and Human Service Bill.

Goodwin said that, before working in the Legislature, she worked on a study relating to the institutionalization of state hospitals.

"We took a look at what the costs were of the state hospitals - at that point 10 state hospitals - and what it would take to de-institutionalize those folks, get them back in the community," she said.

Goodwin then went into the history of state institutions in Minnesota, specifically in the late 80's.

"This is how far we've come, the way state institutions used to be; they were called institutions for the idiots, imbeciles and the insane - and that's what it said right on the hospital," she said. (These comments can be found around 3:50 of the YouTube clip of Goodwin's speech.)

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, interjected to request Goodwin not take a trip down memory lane, but focus on the bill at hand.

"Could you please keep your comments to the bill before us," Limmer said.

Goodwin said an understanding of the past was needed in order to move forward.

Toward the end of her remarks, Goodwin again referred to the name previously used by state institutions.

"These are people, these aren't fiscally wise decisions in so many ways," Goodwin said referring to cuts in the bill. "We might not have the 10 state hospitals for the idiots, insane and the imbeciles like we used to, but that's because a lot of people put a lot of hard work and logic into how to develop absolute basic services we need in our communities." (These comments can be found around 11:20 of the YouTube clip of Goodwin's speech.)

Hoffman's spokeswoman, Susan Closmore, indicated in an email that Hoffman had concerns with those specific set of remarks at the end of the speech.

Goodwin approached the floor after learning of Hoffman's Twitter comments.

"This, even as late as it is, as difficult as these issues are, this goes beyond the pale - this is an ethics violation in my opinion, and I expect an apology," Goodwin said. "I have worked with people with mental illness a lot of my life. I have worked with children with mental illness."

Hoffman's Twitter comment was re-tweeted by Michael Brodkorb, deputy chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota and spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus. Goodwin indicated she might also file a complaint against him.

The complaint suggests Hoffman violated a Senate rule that states any member shall not publish material about another member's position that is known to be false or clearly misleading. It also alleges that Hoffman violated a portion of the rule that states members are to adhere to the highest standard of ethical conduct.

Hoffman was not available for comment. A statement released by Hoffman's office today stated:

"I look forward to sitting down with Senator Goodwin to discuss my concerns regarding remarks she made on the Senate floor today during a lengthy debate on Health and Human Services finance bill. Until I have an opportunity to speak with Senator Goodwin directly and share my experiences as a registered nurse, I have no further comment."

Calls to Goodwin were not returned.