McLeod County GOP made Eric Harpel party chair despite "stalker" allegation

McLeod County Republicans brushed off Rep. Mary Franson's "stalker" allegation
McLeod County Republicans brushed off Rep. Mary Franson's "stalker" allegation

McLeod County Republicans knew that state representative Mary Franson had accused then-deputy party chair Eric Harpel of "stalking" her but decided to promote him to their top leadership post anyway.

Harpel's immediate predecesor, Craig Hoel, stepped down as the McLeod County GOP boss in March for "personal reasons." The party went through a process to find a candidate to replace him, Hoel said, and decided on Harpel after concluding that his behavior toward Franson didn't amount to "stalking."

"The truth is that nothing really happened," Hoel said. "Oh, there was a nasty email sent. Well, you know, then I'm guilty as charged. I've sent some pretty nasty emails to my lovely wife, who I'm still married with."

Neither Franson nor Harpel returned messages seeking comment. Harpel has deleted his Twitter since City Pages reported on the restraining order yesterday morning.

Mary Franson on why she needs a restraining order against Eric Harpel
Mary Franson on why she needs a restraining order against Eric Harpel
City Pages

To Hoel, the situation between Rep. Franson and Harpel is no different than the back and forth that goes on between loving spouses.

"If you went through my email boxes, you could make a story on me that would blow people's minds that I said what I said to my lovely bride, who I'm actually sitting out here on the deck with right now," Hoel explained. "She's looking at me kind of funny but she knows. She knows that I've emailed some stuff that are pretty nasty."

Hoel has four children with his wife, he said, and the couple are "never going to get a divorce."

"But you know what? That's probably not the last nasty email I'm going to send," Hoel added. "People are emotional and people say what they say. And you know what, when I get home after sending an email like that she looks at me like I have three heads and then we forgive each other and we move on with life."

When the party heard rumblings about Franson's problems with Harpel, Hoel said he sat down with his deputy and asked what happened. Hoel claims to have pressed Harpel about the rumors that he was "contacting her and harassing her or whatever," which Harpel denied. Harpel offered to show Hoel his emails with Franson but Hoel declined to see him.

Instead, Hoel claims to have contacted the McLeod County Sheriff's Office to ask their opinion on whether Harpel did anything "against the law" or "inappropriate."

"We get laughed at and the emails got pushed back to us," Hoel said. "'Give me a break. They broke up. Get over it."

That account was disputed by McLeod County Sgt. Jennifer Otto, who tells City Pages she couldn't find any records substantiating Hoel's claim in the sheriff's office system.

"Why would we laugh in somebody's face and say, 'Give us a break they broke up?'" Otto said. "That sounds more like an outsider or an opinion of somebody that's a friend of the family or something, not from the sheriff's office."


Franson took out a restraining order against McLeod County Republican Party chair Eric Harpel last month claiming she feared for her life due to his constant harassment.

The request for a restraining order, filed May 10, recounts numerous incidents beyond a few "nasty emails," although Franson does include emails documenting Harpel's alleged jealousies and recounts a creepy exchange. "I asked him when I could get my belongings and he said he wanted my panties in exchange," Franson claimed. "I told him he was a pervert and to get out -- he left."

Hoel downplays the problems between Franson and Harpel as amounting to a few nasty emails he claims are typical in most relationships. Hoel said the whole situation is just an unfortunate breakup.

"It was totally 100% unfortunate some of the things that were said but again, like I said, if you had an audiotape of a junior in high school and a senior in high school breaking up after prom, you'd have a story," Hoel said. "You'd have some pretty nasty things said. That happens what, twice, three times a week in every high school in the country?"

Excerpt from the Restraining Order request
Excerpt from the Restraining Order request
City Pages

Ultimately, Hoel said, Franson and Harpel are going to "move on with their lives."

"You know why they're going to do that? Because they're two adults who tried to give it a go for a relationship and it didn't work out," Hoel said. "Big deal. You have fun with your story and try to make something of it that it's not."

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