A Minnesota college student is refusing to apologize for the video she took of her local Democratic congressman labeling members of his state’s largest pro-life group as “extremists.”
Kate Engstrom, 20, taped Rep. Collin C. Peterson’s answer to her question at an Oct. 16 event for Concordia College students in Moorhead, Minn. The video captured his controversial response to not receiving the endorsement of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life – the oldest and largest pro-life group in the state with more than 70,000 members.
“I was reading online about the pro-life endorsement – did they take that away because of Obamacare?” she asked.
The congressman agreed that the pro-life group didn’t endorse him because he has voted against repealing the president’s health care reforms, but said he wasn’t worried because “the only place it got reported was on NPR, and those people don’t listen to NPR.”
He also dismissed the pro-life group as a “bunch of extremists.”
Soon after she uploaded the video to YouTube, her school adviser called a meeting and asked her to apologize for surreptitiously filming the congressman’s statement. She was later told the school would not punish her but would leave the matter to her conscience.
“It was sad to me. I’m kind of in shock,” said Ms. Engstrom, who is president of the Concordia College Republicans and deputy vice chairwoman of the Minnesota College Republicans. “One of the local news sources said I was being underhanded. As you can see from the video, the camera’s out in the open the entire time.”
Mr. Peterson did not respond to requests for comment, but Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life said the congressman retracted his statements, which the organization accepts.
“We’re a nonpartisan group,” executive director Scott Fischbach said. “We assess every race every two years. This year he didn’t lose an endorsement, but nobody receives it because he won’t vote against Obamacare.”
A statement from Concordia College spokesman Roger Degerman called the incident an “important learning opportunity” and said the school was committed to encouraging “thoughtful, respectful and forthright interaction.”
Mr. Degerman refused phone calls but confirmed that the college president had apologized to Mr. Peterson for the “undisclosed manner” he was recorded on campus.
One of the original founders of the Blue Dog Coalition, Mr. Peterson is known for his conservative stance on social issues. Ms. Engstrom’s video, however, fed concerns of some in the historically Republican district that the 22-year incumbent’s stance on abortion was born more of convenience than conviction.
Mr. Peterson “reacted in a way that was pretty revealing,” said Craig Bishop, chairman of the district’s Republican chapter, adding the video has affected voters. “After the [group] had endorsed him for years, for him to turn around and call them an extremist organization is an insult to pro-life people in the 7th District.”
This isn’t the first time Mr. Peterson has seemed to look down on his district. In 2009, he told Politico he didn’t host town-hall meetings because 25 percent of his constituents thought the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were an inside job. He later apologized for these remarks.
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