Franken smacked over 'no-vote' unionism

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DINOs want union organizers to see your ballot

As campaign season heats up, voters will get used to hearing words like "misrepresent" and "mislead" when politicians talk about their opponents. But it's not often they hear the word DFL Chairman Brian Melendez threw out Wednesday.

"I am calling him a liar," Melendez said. He was talking about Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, and Coleman's people called the l-word an opening salvo.

"I think it's a signal of what we can expect going forward," said Mark Drake, Coleman's campaign spokesman.

Specifically, Melendez was accusing Coleman of lying by repeating what's been said by anti-labor groups about a bill that would make it easier for workers to join unions.

At a news conference, Melendez played a video of Coleman campaigning and saying, "What (the labor bill) is about is taking away the right to a secret ballot in a union election."

The comments, recorded by a paid DFL staffer, closely mirrored the script of TV ads now running in the Twin Cities. The ads, paid for by a pro-business interest group, suggest supporters of the bill - including Coleman's Democratic rival Al Franken - are using mafia-like tactics to force employees to vote in front of their peers when considering whether to join a union.

Democrats call the commercials, and Coleman's comments, part of "a campaign of spectacular disinformation," and Melendez said Coleman knows better.

"It's been pointed out directly to him, for example, in private meetings with labor leaders about the Employee Free Choice Act, that he's misrepresenting the facts," Melendez said. "I think after that, it's fair to call it lying."

Republicans say Franken, as an author, used fighting words first.

"Uh, right-wing mother-effers," Drake said, quoting a line from Franken's past. "I mean, these are direct quotes from the man, and Brian's got to defend him."

University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said it's early to hear a word like "liar" in July, but this won't be the last shot fired in what already is the nation's most expensive Senate race.

"I think we'll see it from both sides," Pearson said, "from the candidates, the political parties, and then from these outside groups that tend to be the most negative of all of the groups."

But Pearson said it would be unwise for candidates to throw verbal bombs themselves.

That's a lesson former Virginia Sen. George Allen learned the hard way two years ago when he was caught on tape calling his opponent's dark-skinned staffer "macaca."

That particular word certainly was more inflammatory than "liar," but it serves as an example of the power of a word to drive a news cycle.

"Let's give a welcome to Macaca here," Allen said in a clip widely distributed on YouTube. Allen went on to lose a close election to Democrat Jim Webb.

In this year's campaign, trackers, as they're called, are paid to tape everyone's every word. So there will be plenty of opportunities between now and November for words to make headlines.

Of course, both sides said Tuesday they hope this will be a campaign about the issues. But they quickly added: They don't expect the other side to stick to the issues.


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