MINNEAPOLIS -- Republican Jason Lewis' own words are used against him in attack ads by Democratic opponent Angie Craig, but those audio clips are used largely without context.
Voters could be misled, especially with a quote that makes it appear the former talk show host endorses slavery.
Lewis, Craig and Paula Overby of the Independence Party are vying for the open seat in Minnesota's Second Congressional District, a vacancy created by the retirement of incumbent Rep. John Kline.
Lewis spent many years as a conservative talk radio personality, often known by the nickname "Minnesota's Mr. Right." Craig, a former medical device industry executive, told KARE it's fair to hold Lewis accountable for the views he voiced during those times.
Craig's TV ad known as "Believe" uses the following excerpt from the audio version of Lewis' 2011 book Power Divided is Power Checked:
"Well you know if you don’t want to own a slave, don’t. But don’t tell other people they can’t."
The Craig ad known as "Voice" uses another excerpt from the same audio book, to wit:
"How does somebody else owning a slave affect me? It doesn’t!"
The excerpts are part of a larger passage about same sex marriage, and the balance between states' rights and federal powers. The full passage reads as follows:
"People say, 'Jason, you’re misguided. How do two people, two gay people married, being married, affect you? They don’t!' How does somebody taking drugs affect me? It doesn’t! How does someone who wants to work below the minimum wage to someone who wants to pay them that affect me? It doesn’t! And yet, the government regulates all of those things.
"In fact, if you really want to be quite frank about it, how does somebody else owning a slave affect me? It doesn’t! If I don’t think it’s right, I won’t own one. And people always say, if you don’t want to marry somebody of the same sex, you don’t have to, but why tell somebody else they can’t? Well, you know, if you don’t want to own a slave, don’t, but don’t tell other people they can’t! This is why we leave these social decisions to the collective wisdom of the states and the people, because the courts aren’t smart enough to know what the right answer is."
Lewis explained the slavery remark was his way of taking the argument he heard about gay marriage to an extreme.
"It's so silly. You take an absurd point to counter another absurd point. You literally took an absurd figure of speech and made it sound literal!" Lewis told KARE.
"I was countering their argument that 'It doesn't affect you, so let's not have a law' there. I was being absurd. Most people know that."
He pointed out that the first page of Power Divided is Power Checked contains the line, "slavery was mercifully conquered."
Remarks about women
The two Angie Craig ads also include several Lewis radio show clips with disparaging remarks about women, for example:
"Those women ignorant, they are simply ignorant of the important issues in life. Somebody’s got to educate them."
"A vast majority of young single women who couldn’t explain to you what GDP means."
"They care about abortion and gay marriage, they care about The View. They are non-thinking."
Lewis said he no longer has access to his archived radio broadcasts, and as far as he knows those files were deleted by the company that held them.
But he believes those clips were part of a segment on the controversial Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court. The High Court eventually held that employers at closely-held companies don't have to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.
"The Supreme Court said religious liberty's important, so the Affordable Care Act can't come in, tell somebody or dictate the moral conscience to an individual or an business that's against their principles," Lewis explained.
"The Supreme Court decision was basically what my views were. The people on the other side were saying, 'No, I have the right to have this paid for whether you like it or not'!"
Lewis said his comments weren't intended to serve as a blanket assessment of all women, but were directed specifically to the young women who disagreed with him on the contraceptives ruling. He said he believes women should have access to birth control, but employers who object shouldn't have to pay for them.
He said voters would rather hear candidates debate the issues, rather than dwell on his career as a provocative radio personality.
Angie Craig's campaign stood by the ads, despite the context questions.
"Jason has devoted his career to fanning the flames of partisan politics and creating a DC culture that puts gridlock before delivering results for hardworking people," the spokesperson said in statement issued Friday evening.
"He's pointed to his time on talk radio as evidence that he's qualified to serve in Congress, but he cries foul when people hear what he's said in his own voice.. There is no context under which racism, misogyny and outright bigotry is acceptable."
The two will debate October 14 as part of the TPT Almanac program.