You might not expect the Minnesota House’s tax committee to be a venue for heated exchanges, but things got a little personal last week.
The topic was offshore tax havens – corporations shoving their money to other countries, where the tax laws are more lenient. A bill on the table would expand the definition of “domestic corporation” to include “foreign corporations incorporated in or doing business in tax havens.”
Freshman Rep. Aisha Gomez (D-Minneapolis) thinks that’s a good idea. She said "the largest, most powerful corporations" should be required to pay more than they do, because this country educates their employees and builds the roads they use to transport their goods.
But Minnesota's perennial underfunding of all that is in part due to corporations skirting their responsibilities, and not paying "their fair share of taxes in the country where they’re doing business.”
There was a good deal of back-and-forth both for and against the measure, but things heated up when Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) took the mic.
“I think we hear too often people say ‘they’re not paying their fair share,’” he said. “I think that’s so inauthentic, and unfair, and not even an intelligent statement.”
He went on to say that he appreciated the delicacy of comments made by others, including Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston) and Rep. Frank Hornstein (D-Minneapolis).
But, he went on to say of Gomez, "To throw out such a stupid statement as ‘they don’t pay their fair share,’ I think we should reject that and really have an honest and authentic conversation, and not say such things."
Murmers ran through the crowd, and another rep pointed out that it probably wasn’t “appropriate” for McDonald to refer to the comments of a fellow member of the committee as “unintelligent.”
“Mr. Chair, I never pointed out anyone in particular,” McDonald protested. “If someone was insulted by that, my dearest apologies. It was not my intention.”
Gomez took to Facebook later that morning and recounted the interaction without initially mentioning McDonald’s name. (She did later, in the comments, when someone outright asked.)
“When they can’t say anything of substance they just resort to personal insults, I guess,” she wrote. “This place is wild, y’all.” Hundreds of people reacted, but she didn’t respond to interview requests.
McDonald says he’s usually very “careful” about what he says. “After the committee meeting, I did come up to look for [Gomez] and say ‘sorry if I offended you.” But she seemed “upset. I don’t blame her."
He also got a few comments and emails from constituents telling him he’d behaved inappropriately, and that a representative with his experience “should know better.”
On Thursday, he approached Gomez again and apologized a second time. He says she accepted the apology “graciously” and they shared a hug and a handshake.
“Wherever we are, especially in the public eye, we always must be careful with the words we use,” he says. “In the end, we really need to be cognizant and kind with our disagreements.”
He still stands by the basic sentiment of his comments – that demanding corporations pay more is a “stupid” statement – but he didn’t mean it as a personal insult to Gomez.