Democratic State Senator Erik Simonson landed a 6 figure job with Lake Superior College, just 6 months after he introduced a bill to give about 1,000,000 tax dollars to the school.
Simonson’s new position “fits a classic definition” for a conflict of interests says David Schultz, former president of Common Cause Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune. “It’s the absolute, core, core bedrock notion of what a conflict of interest is about,” he added.
The senator, however, claims that it didn’t even occur to him that his actions may constitute a conflict of interest. This possibility “didn’t cross my mind,” he said, per the Tribune. He also dismisses concern about this alleged conflict of interest saying that “a lot of this is outside perception.”
“To be honest, I think every individual legislator that has to work outside the Legislature has to deal with this at some point. We are all pretty careful about not benefiting ourselves,” he says.
A spokesperson for the Minnesota Senate Democrats says the party has been “very thorough in ensuring there was no conflict of interest” involved in Simonson’s new position with the school.
This isn’t the first time this senator has potentially mixed his life outside the legislature with his role as a lawmaker. Right now, he works for the Lake Superior Zoo in a position he has held since 2017. Just months before landing that job, Simonson introduced a bill to secure nearly 2,000,000 tax dollars to build the zoo a new amphitheater.
Two other Minnesota Democrats have also faced issues mixing their careers with their elected positions in recent months. State Representative Kaohly Van Her serves as both a state rep. and the policy director for Melvin Carter, the mayor of St. Paul. This became an issue when she sponsored a bill that would directly benefit one of Melvin’s top objectives.
Representative Jamie Long was also forced to resign from a position at a University of Minnesota think tank after House Republicans unearthed documents that demonstrated likely preferential treatment involved in his hiring process, reports the Tribune.