ST. PAUL, Minn. - State Sen. Mike Parry started his day at the capitol eluding a television camera, but the real tension didn't begin until a legislative hearing on a pending new state employee contract, chaired by the Waseca Republican.
"Excuse me folks, don't make me clear the room," Parry warned several dozen union members, after some of them laughed at a comment made by one of Parry's Republican colleagues.
DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley challenged Parry's handling of the hearing, to which Parry retorted, "When you run a committee, Rep. Winkler, you can have your rules, but until you do, we'll live by my rules in this committee."
As the back-and-forth continued, Parry called a 10-minute recess. He later said the recess was meant to cool tensions in the room - which included a comment by Republican Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who asserted there were not a lot of taxpayers in the room.
Union members took offense to her comment. Benson later apologized, saying "I should have said private sector," acknowledging that state employees are taxpayers too.
Democrats claimed the hearing was unnecessary since the labor deal already struck with state negotiators included a "modest" 2 percent raise which didn't make up for the wages state employees lost during the government shutdown. They accused Parry of seeking attention in his bid for congress.
Parry countered, "There's things in this contract that I believe the public ought to know."
Parry, who is leaving the state senate, has been under fire for comments he made about Governor Mark Dayton at a fundraiser. In remarks recorded by the New Ulm Journal Parry said "it's scary" to sit across from Dayton at a meeting "and watch him pop 15-16 pills..."
Parry refused to answer questions inside the capitol about his controversial remarks, telling reporters he would meet them outside "on the front lawn someplace."
As reporters waited outside, a spokesman emerged from the capitol to say the senator would have nothing more to say.
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