By Pat Kessler

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A top Republican lawmaker is calling for the resignation of the House Democratic leader for comments he says are “racist.”

Those remarks by Rep. Melissa Hortman came during a heated debate Monday over tougher punishment for protesters who block freeways.

But emotions boiled over after Hortman accused “white males” of playing cards in a back room during remarks by female lawmakers of color.

“I hate to break up the 100-percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate,” Hortman said.

She says she was offended because the House Chamber was half empty as women lawmakers of color tried to explain why minority Minnesotans are upset.

“You do not feel the injustice,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville. “You do not see the injustice.”

Greg Davids and Melissa Hortman (credit: CBS)

During the three-and-a-half-hour debate, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers left their desks to relax in the “retiring room,” a private lounge behind the House Chamber.

“You are continuing to say we don’t care about you, we don’t want to see you,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, is calling for Hortman to resign her post as DFL Minority Leader. He said her remarks are racist, and said she is creating a hostile work environment.

“I was stunned by what I was hearing,” Davids said. “When you single out a certain race, and a certain sex, I don’t know what else you would call that.”

During floor sessions, lawmakers of both parties use the retiring room, which is off limits to the public. But leaders say it’s necessary.

“When you’re on the House floor for many, many hours on end, people are going to need to take a little break, to eat, to get a drink of water, take a phone call, and in some cases rest a little bit,” said GOP Majority Leader Rep. Joyce Peppin.

Republican leaders are demanding an apology, and placed a copy of House ethics rules on every desk.

But Hortman is refusing to apologize for her remarks. She says it is Minnesotans who should be offended that a back-room card game is more important than the business of the House.

“This is a new thing, of members sitting in the back, playing cards for extended periods of time,” Hortman said. “A whole new level of disrespect and disregard for debate and discussion.”

Pat Kessler