Mic Drop? GOP Minnesota Rep. Snatches Opponents' Mic and Later Tosses It Back

by | October 11, 2018

By Matthew Stolle

Legislative forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters Rochester are typically earnest, decorous and orderly affairs.

But an exception to that rule occurred Monday during a forum between incumbent GOP state Rep. Duane Quam and DFL challenger Jamie Mahlberg at Rochester Public Library. Near the end of the debate, Quam, seeking to rebut a point Mahlberg made, reached over and yanked the microphone out of her hand.

The aggressive gesture drew a gasp from the audience and, judging from her expression, clearly startled Mahlberg. When Quam was done with his rebuttal, he then dismissively tossed the mic back at Mahlberg, again drawing commotion from the audience.

The forum was lived-streamed on the city's website. And, within hours of the forum's conclusion, a short video of the moment was circulating widely on social media, drawing commentary that criticized Quam's behavior as "boorish," "bullying," and "obnoxious." The video created a statewide stir as well as one progressive group called Action Together TC tweeted out the video with an appeal for donations.

Quam, an engineer and Byron resident, is seeking a fifth two-year term in the Minnesota House of Representatives, representing portions of Dodge and Olmsted counties. Mahlberg, a Rochester Community and Technical psychology teacher, is making her first bid for elective office.

Exchanges between candidates at forums organized by the league are fairly well regulated. Candidates are given one-minute responses to questions and take turns handing the microphone back and forth. When a candidate wants to make a rebuttal, he or she holds up a green "rebuttal" slip and waits for the mic to be handed to them.

Mahlberg said the expression on her face pretty much summed up her feelings.

"How would anybody feel being on the receiving end of that kind of disrespect," Mahlberg said. "I was very startled and taken aback and ultimately disappointed in it."

Mahlberg said her phone has been "pretty active" since the the episode began spreading on social media. The campaign has also received a few donations as a result of the incident.

Mahlberg said she doesn't intend to campaign off the video or post it on her campaign webpage. Nor does she condone other political groups using it for fundraising purposes or to promote their causes.

"I can't control how other people feel, and given the climate right now, people, especially women, are very much not accepting of this kind of behavior," Mahlberg said. "If other people are sharing it, that's their prerogative."

In a Facebook message to the PB, Quam apologized for his behavior.

"I respect Jamie and my actions at last night's forum did not reflect that," Quam said. "Unfortunately, my nerves got the best of me with our timed responses and I was not as graceful as I should have been while we shared the microphone. My sincere apologies to Jamie and I look forward to continuing a positive campaign."

The question that drew Quam's brusque response was about education funding and whether school funding should be matched to the Consumer Price Index, a barometer of inflation.

Mahlberg argued that the state's public schools need a "sustainable, predictable" funding stream and that it made sense that education formula increases keep pace with inflation.

Quam said the problem with education financing is that it funds failure. Too frequently, Minnesota high school graduates arrive at four-year institutions unprepared for college-level work.

"I want to fund success, not failure," Quam said.

(c)2018 the Post-Bulletin