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Lawmakers in lust, and the pleasure we take in others' pain

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“Go to a hotel.”

These four words, uttered by a Dakota County sheriff’s deputy, are the only reasonable thing that’s been said about the sad tale of two Minnesota legislators caught, quite literally, with their pants down.

Last month, an episode of some sort took place in a car owned by state Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing). He, along with Rep. Tara Mack (R-Apple Valley), was ticketed for public nuisance in an Eagan park. According to the deputy’s report, the two were seen kissing. When the lawman approached, he noticed that Mack’s slacks were less than zipped.

Both vociferously denied any acts of make-outery. They claimed they’d met to “exchange documents,” the least sexy euphemism since U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) blamed a “wide stance” after he was caught trolling for sex in our local airport men’s room.

Soon, details of the Kelly-Mack adventure began to anonymously leak into reporters’ mailboxes. The Pioneer Press broke the “news,” though almost apologetically.

The story was brimming with the ingredients of modern scandal. Sex. A public park. Two conservative leaders exchanging glandular fluids outside the sacrament of marriage.

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Headshots showed Mack, bright-eyed and cheerful, a winsome exception in an oft-fatigued Capitol, while Kelly was all shoulders and jawline, 51-going-on-prom-king.

The pair was humiliated, but they should be more ashamed of what they did next. The story was “completely false,” Mack said, while Kelly hinted he was a victim in a smear campaign. Both accused the deputy of fabricating his report, turning a private lie into a public one. They would soon backpedal from this grasping line of defense, quietly paying their fines and muting their claims of misdeeds by cop.

It wasn’t long before Mack’s truer self could be heard in a revealing phone call with the Dakota County sheriff, where she admitted the whole deal was “very salacious,” adding that her husband is a pastor, and that her “career could be ruined” if the story got out.

The pair acted like teenagers in that car — and regressed to small children when they got caught. Their responses changed from “We did not!” to the even less mature “Just please, please don’t tell my dad. Or God.”

But in that moment, begging the sheriff for discretion, Mack seems more vulnerable and more human than any of the politicians I’ve interviewed over the years.

There have been dozens of rumors about the infidelities of local politicians. Others have hidden same-sex relationships. But not everything need make the newspaper. Only the loud, lying hypocrite deserves a drag through the mud. By contrast, consider our “offenders” here:

Tara Mack is a wife and a mother. She’s struggling with the former. But that problem belongs at her kitchen table, not the spot where the Pioneer Press hits your doorstep. Or where City Pages nestles into your birdcage.

Anyone, anywhere can judge her performance. Me, I’d rather have a philandering rep who writes good laws than a sexless one who screws her constituents. I’ll judge Mack on those terms, leaving it to her husband and two kids to deliver the verdict on her wifely measure.

Kelly’s even less impeachable. He supported same-sex unions, and once wanted to strike the word “marriage” from the books, thus keeping the state out of any deal people make with their God.

Pride goes before the fall, or so we like to think. But sometimes you’re not all that proud and you fall anyway. Gravity can’t tell the difference.

Want reasons to criticize Kelly or Mack? Stop playing backseat voyeur and dig into their records.

Kelly, a Republican leader on transportation, has done his best to sabotage the Southwest Light Rail line. Any hope for a greener planet — or even a less torturous commute from Eden Prairie — will have to be done over Tim Kelly’s dead body.

Mack, meanwhile, led a “reform” of healthcare this year. Her major innovation was slashing the services budget, taking all the numbers for the poor and disabled out of the budget, then replacing each with a zero, a question mark, or a shrug.

Given the deputy’s interruption, I doubt either Kelly or Mack got what they wanted out of that parked car. But since that day, they’ve gotten much more attention and less compassion than they deserve.

I hope they now get what they need. Peace. Reconciliation, if that’s in the cards. Above all, a bit of privacy.

No, we can’t just mess around wherever there’s enough elbow room to unzip each other’s pants. We’d scare the horses.

But worse is the leering, the gawking, the pleasure in other people’s pain.

As citizens, Tim Kelly and Tara Mack owed Dakota County $260 each for creating a “nuisance.” As legislators, they owe us some honest hard work. That’s all I see on their side of the ledger.

As a journalist, I owed them my silence. It’s too late for that. Now all I’ve got is sympathy.