Michael Brodkorb talks scandal, lawsuit, and new leases on life: The City Pages interview
Brodkorb acknowledges making "bad decisions, bad choices," but says he's learned and is ready to move on.
Two years ago, Michael Brodkorb was one of the Minnesota Republican party's up-and-coming voices, a ruthless political tactician who made a name for himself digging up dirt about the DFL and writing about it on his blog. But then news of his affair with Amy Koch broke, and by this time a year ago Brodkorb found himself out of work and taking heat from all sides for pursuing a costly gender discrimination lawsuit against the Senate.
This year started off on a particularly rough note for Brodkorb. In January, he was critically injured in a car crash, and he later pleaded guilty to DUI in connection with the accident. But this morning, one day removed from settling his wrongful termination lawsuit for a pittance compared to the damages he once sought, Brodkorb said he's thrilled to turn the page and have a "third chance" at life. We connected with him to talk about the settlement, how his affair with Koch and the resulting scandal affected his political views, and what life lessons he's learned from the whole ordeal, among other topics. Check out our interview after the jump.
City Pages: The Senate released a statement yesterday saying your $30,000 settlement represents the same amount you were offered before you filed suit. In light of that, do you have any regrets about pursuing legal recourse?
Brodkorb: No. I haven't been deputized to speak for anyone else in the general populace, but, you know, the reason I filed the lawsuit and went to court is because I needed advocates. I needed counsel. I needed to retain somebody versed in the law to advocate on my behalf to resolve an employment issue that I had with the Minnesota Senate.
And it's unfortunate that I had to do that. I had never felt that in the time of my departure from the Minnesota Senate that there was any responsible agent at the Senate to deal with, and so my only choice was to go to court, and to seek relief through the legal process. And my faith in the legal system was confirmed. My belief in the legal system was confirmed. I made that statement yesterday at the court and I made it privately in conversations I was able to have with the magistrate in this case. People go to court and they seek relief from the courts when they feel they have been wronged.
Was it a perfect settlement? Well, as my attorney said yesterday, a perfect settlement is when both sides feel that they -- that one side may have gave up too much, that one side might have gotten too little. And, you know, that's ideally the perfect settlement.
But I had no choice but to seek relief in the court system. There was no responsible agent at the Minnesota Senate that was willing to discuss matters related to my separation from the Senate, and that's what the legal process exists for. I'm very thankful for the legal representation that I received from Mr. Walsh and the work of Judge Boylan yesterday, the magistrate in this case. [He] was able to bring the two parties together to get this matter resolved.
CP: You've taken a lot of heat for the fact that taxpayers are on the hook for roughly $300,000 in legal fees associated with the case. What do you have to say to the people who criticize you for that?
Brodkorb: Well, first and foremost, the framework of America's judicial system is, generally speaking, each side pays for their own legal fees. First and foremost, Aaron, I would remind you that I'm a taxpayer. So, you know, I technically helped pay for and paid for the legal fees of all the attorneys and all the parties in this case, as I am a taxpayer.
How the Minnesota Senate chose to process their legal fees, pay their legal fees, and hire their attorneys is their responsibility to deal with. They chose to spend the money that they did in this case and they're accountable for those decisions. The elected leadership of the Minnesota Senate is responsible for retaining the counsel that they did, paying the counsel that they did, and spending the amount of money that they did, that they felt they needed to regarding the cost associated with this case. They spent close to $100,000 in this case before I had even filed my lawsuit.
The other point I'll make to you is regarding use of the term "severance." You know, when Cal Ludeman walked into Moose Country, and surprised me, and ambushed me at Moose Country, and announced that I was being terminated, he didn't come with a severance package in hand. He didn't come with a severance package of any sort in hand or any type of severance package of any type of sort. And so, the legal fees incurred in this -- I had legal fees that I have had to pay to my attorneys, the Senate has legal fees that they have had to pay. They are responsible for the structure and the payment system that they've set up to pay for their legal fees. And as a taxpayer, you know, I have by default paid all the attorneys in this, but the legal structure for how the decisions that the Republican leadership -- let's be honest here, the Republican leadership made the decision to hire outside counsel and to proceed down this road. And ultimately, the responsibility lies with them to explain and justify why they've spent the amount they did in their legal fees. That's a conversation they need to have, that they're responsible for. It's their responsibility to deal with.
(For more, click to page two.)
Brodkorb: Let me be blunt with you -- probably the situation that has affected me the most has been the car accident that I went through and recovering from that. As I said yesterday, I'm probably never going to win a foot race again, and I'm lucky to be alive and to be where I am.
I will say to you, though, Aaron, that I did a lot of work to help elect Republicans. I did a lot of work, and a lot of volunteering, and put a lot of hours in to help elect and to be part of the team that elected a Republican majority in the Minnesota Senate. And it was a team effort, there were a lot of people that were involved in that. And I played a role in helping elect a Republican Senate.
I will say to you that it disappoints me greatly that the Republicans that I helped elect handled the matter related to me in such a way. I will forever believe that -- I should say, I will forever be disappointed with how a lot of the Republican legislators and those that I worked with, when this situation was dealt with, how they dealt with it, and how they chose to deal with this, and how they chose to handle the situation. I'm disappointed in the fact that I pretty much overnight had to go from [believing] I was working for an institution that I thought would serve the state well, and do such good things, to going to the point where I had to retain legal counsel because I felt there just wasn't any responsible agent at the table who could even deal with a simple HR matter. And who could deal with a simple matter related to my unemployment. And my termination from the Senate.
And so, my partisanship, you know, I'm still a Republican, but in terms of my level of partisanship it hasn't been there since I've come out of the car accident and had a new opportunity and a new lease on life. I view myself as getting not just a second chance but a third chance here. And, you know, I will always love politics, and I will always love the back and forth. But, in terms of my level of interest in the partisanship, it's just something that is just not there, and I don't know if it will ever be there again. I just believe that politics can sometimes bring out the best in people but it can also bring out the worst in people. And I think if I were to say from a partisan standpoint, I think it's good to have some checks and balances in the system.
CP: You've referred to how transformative going through that car accident and the recovery from it was. What was it that was so significant about that for you?
Brodkorb: To be honest with you, Aaron, I don't know that I'll ever physically truly recover from the car accident. I don't know that I'll ever physically -- I'm not the same person I was physically before that. And so, physically, I carry the physical scars of that accident. It was -- waking up in a hospital, with your family around you, with a breathing tube down your throat is something that is very difficult to ever forget that experience. And the months of January, and February, and parts of March, were physically very challenging for me. It was much more, the accident, to be honest, Aaron, it was a heckuva lot more serious than most people I think know and that I've ever really truly disclosed.
You come through a situation like that, you begin to really look at your life and the choices that you make, and how you conduct yourself, and when you get a second or a third opportunity at life you really start to realize how blessed you are to be above ground. And to be alive and able to walk around and to be able to do things. I don't take anything for granted anymore. I just don't take anything for granted anymore. This lawsuit is behind me, and today has been, today has been such a different day than it was yesterday. I feel like I have my whole life in front of me. And, yeah, look -- there are some tough conversations I still need to have with, as I've said, some of the younger members of my family as they start to get older, and I know those are still yet to come. But I'm alive, and I got a lot of years left in me and I feel good that I'm going to have much more say in how those chapters are written than I did previously.
CP: So when you look back on the last two years, do you wish you would've made different choices or do you chalk it up as one of those things where you think, 'I had to learn some lessons the hard way but I made the best choices I could'?
Brodkorb: No. Aaron -- you can't -- I have consistently said and will always believe that I regret the decisions I made in the way I conducted myself in my personal life and how I handled myself. You don't make the type of decisions that I've made and chalk it up to anything, and I think it would diminish the significance of the mistakes I've made over the last few years to chalk them up to, or to diminish them to say that, 'This is just a learning experience.' It would be totally, totally inappropriate.
I made bad decisions, bad choices. And I could've made better choices and better decisions, and the best way that I can move forward in my life is to not make the same bad decisions and just try to lead a good life. And that's all I want to do. And that's all I want to try and do -- just be as good of a person as I can be, and understand that I've made some mistakes and that -- not live in the past, not live everyday in the past. But understand and be aware of what I've done and try to live the best life I can going forward.
(For the rest of the interview, click to page three.)
Brodkorb: I'm living in Eagan with my family. I have since this situation. And I want to make sure that's clear, but I also, I've always been -- I brought a lot of undue scrutiny to my family and my personal life by the way I conducted myself. And so, I want to be clear that I live with my family in Eagan, but I also want to continue to try to maintain a little bit of privacy regarding my family. But what was reported is completely accurate.
CP: You're getting back into political blogging, obviously. But what about politics? If you were to become actively involved again, what sort of thing would you like to do?
Brodkorb: The type of thing that interests me in politics isn't the partisanship. It's the solution-based politics. It's those that are interested in coming together from a variety of backgrounds. I mean, politics, in a sense, is about finding ways to work together, and compromise, and get solutions done. And to be honest with you, that's the type of politics that I'd like to be a part of. If I could be at some point again in a room with a collection of people that are interested in solving problems and coming up with solutions for solving big problems and small problems, boy, I'd be very, very happy.
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