July 23, 1999
James R. Nobles, Legislative Auditor
1st Floor South, Centennial Building
658 Cedar Street
St. Paul, MN 55155
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your letter reviewing the expenses associated with the Governor's recent book tour.
In your review, you acknowledge that no laws were broken. As a result, this letter will focus on your conclusions and policy recommendations.
Frankly, I was surprised that your letter seemed to go well beyond a "special review" of the expenses incurred in connection with the book tour. Indeed, your letter seemed to focus more on policy considerations than on an examination of the facts. While you cite Minnesota Statutes Section 3.971, subdivision 1 as authority for your making policy recommendations, that statute merely gives you authority to ensure that "all provisions of law … are complied with…." Nevertheless, I will attempt to address your concerns.
In responding to your letter, it is critical at the outset to separate questions of policy from the clear obligations of our agency. The Department of Public Safety is charged with ensuring the safety of the Governor and his family, as well as other elected officials. We take this obligation seriously. It is not discretionary and does not shift with the political winds. Our policy has always been, and will continue to be, that we will afford the Governor, his family and elected officials the level of protection necessary to ensure their safety.
The question of who pays for executive protection at certain venues is, as you point out, an appropriate consideration for the legislature, but is irrelevant as far as our agency is concerned. The fact is that Governor Ventura is a worldwide celebrity. As you acknowledge in your letter, Governor Ventura requires more security than any previous Governor or governors from other states. He is our Governor 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our obligation to protect him does not vary depending on the purpose for a particular appearance. I can assure you that anyone intent on doing him harm will be unconcerned with whether an event relates to his public or private business.
Simply put, the Governor's celebrity status results in both benefits and costs. He has ignited worldwide interest in Minnesota – a fact that will undoubtedly lead to economic and other benefits for our state. On the other hand, his high public profile has heightened concerns about his security. Unfortunately, we live in a violent world. The events during this past legislative session only confirmed that our elected officials face increased security risks.
As for the question of whether the legislature should, by statute, preclude state-paid security at private business activities, I respectfully suggest that to begin down that road would be unwise.
First, as you acknowledge in your letter, "[T]he job of a Governor is different and significantly more complex than that of any other state official or employee. Being Governor involves a mixing of personal and official life…" The reality is that it may be difficult to distinguish between what might be considered a "private business activity" and other situations where security coverage has been historically accepted. For example, when a president or presidential candidate visits Minnesota (as George W. Bush did this week), our agency provides them with protection at no charge regardless of the purpose for their visit – including fundraising for political parties or their own campaign. Is that expenditure more "reasonable" than costs associated with an elected official's business activities? A bright line test will be difficult to achieve.
Second, if the legislature engages in a public debate and concludes that the Governor is not entitled to state-provided security at certain events, and those types of events are specifically described, it would be like sending an open invitation to any disturbed individual who may intend to harm the Governor or his family.
Finally, it is important to keep this debate in context. As a result of threats last year at the Capitol, security was heightened for both elected officials and the Governor. An ad hoc committee was created by the legislature following an assault and a bomb threat, and is currently considering how to improve security at the Capitol to ensure the safety of the public and elected officials. This debate can certainly be prolonged, but it seems to me that the legislature has already recognized our changing world and the need for heightened security measures for all elected officials.
I would suggest that whether or not the state should pay for personal business costs is a question perhaps best left to the voters, rather than proscribed by statute. If voters conclude that an elected official has stepped over the line, then their ire will be reflected at the ballot box. The appropriate response to public policy questions is not always the passage of a new law – particularly where the issue is as sensitive and important as the personal safety of elected officials and their families.
In sum, because of his extraordinary public profile, Governor Ventura presents unique security challenges to which our agency will continue to respond – regardless of the purpose of certain appearances. If the legislature chooses to further debate this issue, I would be more than happy to testify as to our agency's perspective.
Best Regards,Charlie Weaver