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Katherine Kersten gets slimed

Minnesota Law & Politics is a monthly magazine mostly directed to Minnesota’s legal community. In its current issue, Dwight Hobbes profiles Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison. (Hobbes’s profile is one of the issue’s three profiles of Minnesota’s freshmen congressmen, sandwiched between profiles of Michele Bachmann and Tim Walz.)

Referring to the 2006 campaign in which Ellison was elected to the House, Hobbes states: “When Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten didn’t drag his religion (Muslim) into things, she got on his wife, Kim Ellison, about parking tickets.” This is a cheap shot that is false and unwarranted.

Kersten was essentially the only mainstream media reporter or columnist who explored the subject of Ellison’s checkered past and radical associations during the 2006 campaign. Ellison’s checkered past includes his long commitment to and advocacy of the Nation of Islam over the period 1989-1998, during which time he employed aliases including Keith Hakim, Keith X Ellison and Keith Ellison-Muhammad. After Ellison’s nomination by the DFL Fifth District convention in May 2006, Ellison essentially began his primary campaign with a demonstrably false letter to the local chapter of the Jewish Community Relations Council addressing his involvement with the Nation of Islam.

Although Kersten’s coverage of Ellison during the campaign included reference to Ellison’s involvement with the Nation of Islam, Ellison himself had acknowledged that his involvement with the Nation of Islam was an issue in the campaign before Kersten ever wrote about it. Moreover, she never “dragged his religion (Muslim) into things.” I believe that Hobbes may be, shall we say, confused on this score.

Hobbes is also confused on the subject of parking tickets. Those with long memories may recall the news stories reporting that Ellison’s numerous fines for unpaid parking tickets and moving violations had led to the suspension of Ellison’s driver’s license on more occasions than Ellison could recall. The story was broken by KSTP News in July 2006 and reluctantly picked up by Star Tribune reporter Dane Smith. I don’t believe that Kersten wrote about Ellison’s parking tickets, moving violations, unpaid fines or license suspensions.

The Star Tribune reported Ellison’s willful violation of Minnesota campaign finance law requirements as a state legislator in an article by Pat Doyle. The article credited Kersten with contributing research. Ellison’s violations of the campaign finance law had led to the imposition of a civil fine that remained unpaid as of May 2006.

For some reason Hobbes doesn’t mention Ellison’s run-in with the IRS. Ellison fell afoul of the IRS after failing to pay $25,000 in income taxes. I don’t believe Kersten wrote about that either.

Hobbes to the contrary notwithstanding, one would think Ellison’s difficulties following the law were legitimately newsworthy in the course of a hotly contested DFL primary campaign. They make out a striking pattern of lawbreaking since Ellison undertook the practice of law in 1990.

Moreover, Kersten certainly never “got on Kim Ellison.” It was the Ellison campaign itself that produced Mrs. Ellison to take responsibility for Ellison’s campaign finance infractions as well as Ellison’s driver’s license suspensions. If anyone, then, it was the Ellison campaign — not Katherine Kersten — who “got on Kim Ellison.”

Ellison’s religion is also of some interest, though I am quite sure that Kersten never “dragged it in” to her columns on Ellison. It would be interesting to learn which branch of Islam it is to which Ellison adheres and whether it supports homosexual rights, abortion rights, legal equality for women, the separation of church or mosque and state and related elements of the DFL platform.

I believe that Hobbes’s cheap shot at Kersten makes about as many errors as it is humanly possible to make in the course of one short sentence. One might almost think Hobbes doesn’t care to get his facts straight when it comes to Katherine Kersten, or Keith Ellison, for that matter.

UPDATE: In one column — Kersten’s September 18, 2006 column on “Keith Ellison’s excuse brigade” — Kersten mentioned Ellison’s numerous, previously reported legal issues and hypothesized that “[m]any are willing to overlook Ellison’s record because they are breathless with excitement at the chance to send the first Muslim — and the first black Minnesotan — to Congress.” In that column Kersten focused on Ellison’s support for Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam: “The Excuse Brigade has sought to counter these inconvenient facts by falling back on the nuclear option — the B word. Folks who draw attention to Ellison’s support for Farrakhan are bigots, they say.” Hobbes’s article represents an almost clinical manifestation of the phenomenon Kersten was describing in that column.

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