MANKATO — Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-1st District, has banned members from the liberal-leaning group Indivisible of St. Peter/Greater Mankato from visiting with staff at his district office in Mankato.
Hagedorn wrote in a letter to Indivisible members “(his) staff is no longer available to meet with you in-person in our district office.”
The Congressman accused the group in the letter of purposefully trying to distract his staff from their jobs and becoming a nuisance to other tenants inside the Brett’s Building in downtown Mankato.
“My district office is not a campaign office,” he wrote in the letter, which his office released to media Monday night. “It is a government office, tasked with doing the work of the people. That work cannot be efficiently and effectively performed when a very small, very vocal group demands a wholly disproportionate amount of the people’s time.”
Yurie Hong, one of the founders of the local chapter of Indivisible, said the letter took members by surprise and they needed to meet to determine their response as a group.
Members of Indivisible made almost weekly visits on Thursdays to Hagedorn’s Mankato office since he was sworn in at the beginning of the year to ask for Hagedorn to hold more town halls and public forums, among other things.
While a handful of people typically showed up — organizers said eight to 10 people would have been a large group for a regular visit — Indivisible organized bigger groups over the past few weeks after Hagedorn held a last-minute tele-town hall in Nicollet County last month.
Hagedorn’s office did not publicize the tele-town hall in advance. Tele-town halls involve lawmakers working with a vendor to call thousands of residents to host a large-scale conference call where residents can ask questions similar to the traditional town hall format.
Proponents say having a tele-town hall works well for residents with disabilities or people who otherwise couldn’t attend a public forum. Critics say the format too easily allows lawmakers to ignore their critics as vendors and staff could potentially screen calls beforehand, or decide not to call people who aren’t registered voters to hear their concerns.
More than 30 people showed up to an organized office visit on June 18 to share their concerns about the town hall, to urge Hagedorn to hold more public forums and to give more notice ahead of time.
Indivisible organized another large-scale visit on June 27 to share concerns about the conditions at refugee holding centers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but the property manager refused to let them inside the building and called the police.
According to a police report from the Mankato Public Safety Department, the property manager requested the group be moved away from the building and onto public property. The manager told police other tenants and customers “were fearful of the group.”
Police observed the group acting respectfully and found no reason to remove them from the property.
Hagedorn said in his letter one of the Indivisible members told staff on June 18 they were purposefully trying to tie up staff and prevent them from working on other tasks.
“This is disappointing, especially coming from a group that claims to be dedicated to making people’s lives better. Such tactics represent a disservice to every taxpayer and every resident of Minnesota’s 1st District, particularly those with pressing case work needs.”
Hong said members are reviewing videos they made of the office visit that day to determine if Hagedorn’s accusation is true. She said Indivisible recognizes Hagedorn’s district staff does important work throughout southern Minnesota.
“We are completely supportive of them doing their work, and we would also just like to remind them that meeting with their constituents is a part of that work,” she said.
Hong also pointed out new people have come to each office visit, all of whom wanted to share concerns with Hagedorn on a variety of topics from immigration to the ongoing tariff disputes with other countries.
“We are not a monolithic group and we have a legal right to communicate our concerns, and to receive responses,” she said.
Hagedorn said in his letter Indivisible members can submit their concerns in writing or attend a town hall in the future. The Blue Earth Republican has promised to hold at least one town hall in all 21 counties in his congressional district over the next year.