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DFL Candidate Eric Bergeson Draws Scrutiny for Off-Color Columns

Bergeson delivers a keynote speech at a conference on cognitive impairment. Ironically, he's taking heat for writing about pretending to be "mentally impaired."

Bergeson delivers a keynote speech at a conference on cognitive impairment. Ironically, he's taking heat for writing about pretending to be "mentally impaired."

Here's how politics works: On Wednesday, the race involving Eric Bergeson, the DFL candidate for a House seat in northwestern Minnesota, was added to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee's "2014 Races to Watch" list."

"Democrat Eric Bergeson, a local columnist and business owner, is mounting a serious challenge" to two-term MNGOP incumbent Debra Kiel, the DLCC writes.

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Later that day, yours truly received an email from a local Republican source. It asked, have you seen some of the questionable stuff Bergeson wrote?

The email specifically directed me to two pieces penned within the last year. The first, from January of this year and published in the Crookston Times, discusses a trip Bergeson took with his cousin Tina to a gigantic new Mormon Temple in Arizona. In it, Bergeson describes pretending to be "mentally impaired" at the prompting of his cousin in hopes they could get through a tour of the temple quicker.

Here's an excerpt:

The Temple tour required advance tickets. For some reason, Cousin Tina decided it would help our cause to declare me mentally impaired.

Printed right on the ticket were my expected behaviors: "He is really, really slow. We'll probably be late."...

I decided my mental impairment would resemble Forrest Gump's. I buttoned my top top shirt button, hitched my pants way up high and talked like a rube.

After a wait in line for the movie, a woman took our ticket. I acted like Gump, but in vain. She didn't even look at the ticket. She just smiled at me in pity.

Not the end of the world, but not exactly the most wholesome stunt imaginable, right?

In another column published last December in the Neosho Daily News, Bergeson, discussing religion, admits to once using an offensive slur about Jewish people:

When I was on a summer program once, I was eating with some friends and used the term, "I Jewed them down." Well, one of my friends at the table was an observant Jew. I felt like a fool!

Was it political correctness for me to apologize for my slur? No, its just manners.

Reached for comment, Bergeson says this is the first he's heard about any of his columns stirring controversy.

"I was a columnist for 15 years and I often pushed the edge," he says. "I'm not going to defend my columns. They were written as a columnist, and a columnist writes to provoke, entertain, and boy if you want an issue that I'm strong on, it's the mental health issue and how we treat the people that are mentally impaired, and the terrible things that have been done to funding for mental illness in the past 10 years."

Indeed, search Bergeson's name on YouTube, and one of the first hits is of him delivering a keynote speech about dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment at the 2012 Northern Plains Conference on Aging and Disability.

"I wasn't meaning to be disrespectful," Bergeson continues. "If someone is going to go into a humorous and somewhat satirical column and place it in a political context, that's not going to go well."

With regard to his "Jewed them down" comment, Bergeson, 50, says, "I did that, and I was corrected. I was 19 years old."

"It's very common around here and people don't know," he continues. "I was ignorant, and I was showing a learning moment in my life. I have no shame of that."

Asked about the political implications of Republicans suddenly sniffing around his columns right around the same time his race against an MNGOP incumbent looks to be tightening, Bergeson says, "If that's all they have on me, they've got some work to do."

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.