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Concordia College student secretly records talk with Peterson

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson

MOORHEAD - When U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson stopped to chat with a Concordia College student Tuesday, he thought he was posing for a picture.

Instead, he was surreptitiously recorded on video saying a Minnesota-based anti-abortion group that pulled its support for him this year is "extremist."

The video, recorded Tuesday after an event on campus, shows Peterson addressing the loss of an endorsement by the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, an anti-abortion group that has supported him in the past.

The group supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and withheld its endorsement because Peterson, a Democrat who voted against the original bill, voted against repeal.

The group also did not endorse Lee Byberg, Peterson's Republican opponent. Last week, the group downplayed the disagreement and said it wouldn't campaign against Peterson.

Peterson's record is generally considered to be anti-abortion. According to the National Right to Life Committee, the MCCL's national affiliate, the congressman has voted for the organization's position on 92 of the 96 votes the NRLC scored. Until recently, the group gave him a 100 percent rating.

In the video, Peterson, speaking to Concordia junior Kate Engstrom after posing for what he believed was a photo with her, says the MCCL is "being a bunch of extremists" and the group's stance on the Affordable Care Act is "the end of them as an organization.

"They're now a completely partisan organization," he said in the video, in response to Engstrom's questions about the MCCL's endorsement decision. "When you get into that position, you're done."

He also said: "The only place it (the dropped endorsement) got reported is on MPR, and those people don't listen to MPR."

Engstrom, 20, made the video with a friend. She said she approached Peterson after an event on campus Tuesday featuring a handful of Democrats because she wanted to speak to him about the lack of the MCCL endorsement.

She asked him for a picture, but her friend instead recorded video of Engstrom asking Peterson about the issue.

"I knew that Collin would probably not respond or tell me his actual thoughts on it if he knew it was on camera," said Engstrom, a political science student who describes herself as a Republican. "I just thought it was really important that people would know the truth of what Collin Peterson thinks."

She said she believes Peterson assumed she was a Democrat, "so he felt like he could say whatever he wanted."

She said she found the remarks insulting.

"It made it sound like we were some sort of weird extremists," said Engstrom, who opposes abortion. "He always claims that he's a moderate, and in my eyes he's not really a moderate."

She said she has no ties to the MCCL or to a campaign.

In a statement on the video, Peterson said he respects the MCCL's decision not to endorse him but that the group's opposition to the Affordable Care Act has gone too far.

"I opposed the Affordable Care Act, and have since supported removing the parts of that bill that MCCL objects to," he said in the statement. "However, their position on repealing the ACA has become partisan and political, and I don't think this should be a partisan issue."

Allison Myhre, Peterson's communications director, said the comment about the MCCL not listening to Minnesota Public Radio was not meant seriously.

"From what he said to me, it was probably a bad joke," she said.

Myhre said Engstrom and her friend were setting Peterson up by asking for a photo they did not take.

The MCCL did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.