Mike Hatch lost his patience with a newspaper reporter Thursday while defending his running mate Judi Dutcher. The reporter later wrote that Hatch called him a "Republican whore" before hanging up. The Attorney General, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, maintains he used the words "Republican hack" instead.
The latest flap grew out of Hatch's efforts Thursday to deflect criticism of Dutcher, the former state auditor, after she failed to recognize the term "E-85" in a television interview with an Alexandria TV station. That station's tape was later given to its sister station in the Twin Cities which broke the Dutcher story Wednesday night.
"The next morning I got a call from Judi saying 'What do you mean I don't know ethanol, I know ethanol.' That wasn't the issue. The issue was E-85 and she was tired. She'd been on the road for five days."
But as reporters from across the state chased the Dutcher E-85 story Thursday the Attorney General grew increasingly frustrated with the coverage, and with Governor Pawlenty's seizing on the issue to question Dutcher's qualifications.
In a story that appeared in the Duluth News Tribune a Capitol correspondent for the Forum newspapers group, Scott Wente wrote that Hatch became irritated during a phone call. Before hanging up, Wente wrote, Hatch declared "You'e nothing but a Republican whore."
On Friday, in an interview with KARE 11, Mike Hatch recalled that part of the conversation differently.
"He says 'Why doesn't Judi know? Why doesn't Judi know? I said you know what you ought to be talking to Judi. And he kept going on badgering me. I said 'Listen, you're acting like a Republican hack. I'm gonna get Judi to call you'."
The Attorney General said he regretted saying even those words, but was quite sure he didn't say the one in question.
"He says I said that word. I don't recall that," Hatch told KARE 11.
"And I've asked him, I know they have a tape of the conversation. I'm positive they do. They should play it and if it says the word 'whore' I would apologize. But you know I'm talking to a man, a male reporter, and that's not in sync."
On Friday Wente's boss, Forum Communications Capitol Bureau Chief Don Davis, stood by the quote.
"The quote is accurate," Davis told KARE 11.
As to the possibility of a tape to prove the point Davis said as a matter of policy the newspaper chain does not reveal its news gathering practices.
"We do not dislose our reporting techniques," Davis told KARE.
Forum Communications owns several Minnesota newspapers including Duluth News Tribune, The Bemidji Pioneer, Red Wing Republican Eagle, Daily Globe of Worthington and the West Central Tribune of Willmar.
Republicans quickly reacted to the story.
"With one word, Mike Hatch offended all of Minnesota," Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey was quoted as saying in a party press release said. "By calling a newspaper reporter a 'whore,' the angry, slash-and-burn Hatch that he's tried to hide over the past year has finally been revealed. Hatch's latest blow-up shows he doesn't have the temperament to lead our state."
A group of female Republican lawmakers held a news conference Friday afternoon at the Capitol to complain about the newspaper's report.
"We're not the ones who raised the gender card first, but, I'll say it, 'Republican whore brings it to a new level," said Sen. Amy Koch of Buffalo.
Rep Laura Brod of New Prague added, "In the past 48 hours Mike Hatch has said some things and revealed his character. I think that there's a lack of respect for the people he's talking to and a lack of respect for Minnesotans in general."
The Republican women scheduled the press conference even before learning of the "whore" flap. They had planned to go after Hatch for another statement he made while reacting to the E-85 gaffe.
Hatch was quoted as saying "He just wants to beat up on a woman" Thursday, referring to Governor Pawlenty going after Judi Dutcher on the E-85 fuel issue.
In a series of news conferences and press conference calls Thursday Pawlenty pounced on the E-85 gaffe and questioned Dutcher's qualifications for the office of lieutenant governor.
Rep. Brod bristled at the notion that Pawlenty shouldn't criticize Dutcher simple because she's a woman.
"The fact they suggest she shouldn't be challenged because she's a female I think is an insult," Brod told the Capitol press corps on Friday.
Hatch told KARE he never intended to say female politicians get a free pass because of their gender. He meant to say the Governor wants to pick on or beat up on Dutcher.
"I meant 'this woman' and it came out as 'a woman' and you know it obviously, when I said he's picking on this woman what I meant was her, Judi Dutcher."
Hatch noted that he's surrounded himself with women during his eight years as Attorney General, including his chief deputy and solicitor general Lori Swanson who is running to succeed him.
His frustration with the E-85 flap is fueled by the fact that theTwin Cities TV station that broke the story, and broadcast the embarrassing videotape of Dutcher, is owned the Stanley Hubbard. He donated the first $10,000 to the Virginia-based group flooding the airwaves with attack ads against Hatch.
Hatch, after being hounded by KSTP crews in Albert Lea Thursday called Hubbard a "political hack" and used the same term to describe Hubbard's reporters. The Attorney General said Friday he regretted that particular choice of words, but still is disturbed by Hubbard's involvement with the anti-Hatch PAC.
"You know when you're in these campaigns for a year and some guy who's supposed to be heading an independent news organization doles out that kind of money."
Hubbard's station, KSTP-TV, repeated reported Thursday that Hubbard had no editorial control over the decision to go with the Dutcher E-85 story. Stanley Hubbard was quoted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as saying he's not affiliated with either party but believes Tim Pawlenty deserves to stay in office.
Earlier in the week Hatch criticized the PAC known as "A Stronger America - Minnesota" because it raised the bulk of its advertising money, more than a half million dollars, after the deadline had passed for campaign finance reports. Most of its donors won't be known until after the election.
"And here they come in the last week and try to buy themselves a governorship," said Hatch.
"And I think the public has the right to know who's doing it."
Hatch suspects the insurance industry is a heavy contributor to the Virginia group running the attack ads. When asked what insurance companies have against him Hatch couldn't help but laugh out loud.
"I mean I should have expected it, the insurance industry coming in here trying to buy this thing, but you know I also got a right to say hey folks this is the insurance industry coming in here and buying your governor."
Hatch's has claimed the national Republicans in Washington DC are trying to "swiftboat" him, a term coined after the Swiftboat Veterans group waged a successful attack campaign in 2004 against Senator John Kerry.
The Hatch campaign pointed out Friday that the term "swiftboat" may apply both figuratively and literally in this case. The Stronger America group shares an office suite with Crossroads Media, which is making the ad buys, and with Americans for Job Security -- which was the group instrumental in the Swiftboat ad campaign in 2004.
Hatch also notes that Benjimin Ginsberg, an attorney connected to Americans for Job Security, is the Bush campaign staffer who had to resign in 2004 because he was working for the Swiftboat campaign at the same time. Election laws forbid coordination between candidates and other political entities, including political parties, PACS and so-called "527" independent groups.
The coordination issue is raised often by Hatch because of the fine levied against Pawlenty's campaign during his first run for office in 2002. The Pawlenty campaign that year was hit with a $600,000 penalty by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure board for inappropriate coordination with the Repubican Party of Minnesota.
By John Croman,KARE 11 News.
(Copyright 2006 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)