No Guts for Governorship

Ex-Swanson aide didn’t like what she saw in AG’s office. So she offered to tell her story

By Eric Black

                                                                                     MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

Attorney General Lori Swanson speaking to reporters about her candidacy for Minnesota governor.

After some of the comments on some of my previous pieces about Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson’s tenure in office criticized me for criticizing Swanson, a woman who worked in the AG’s office during Swanson’s first term offered to tell me her story. Here it is.

The Rev. Linda McEwen, who worked as a Lutheran pastor during much of her career, was hired to work in the AG’s office not long after Swanson was elected to her first term.

She didn’t like what she saw. It ended badly.

McEwen, who is now mostly retired and lives in Mahtomedi, was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1979, when female ministers were still relatively few. She considers herself a proud feminist.

In 2006, when Swanson became the first woman attorney general in Minnesota history, McEwen says, she was gladdened that another portion of the glass ceiling had been broken. At that time, McEwen said, she had recently retired from a pastoral position and decided to apply for a position with the new AG, and she was soon hired to be Swanson’s executive assistant. Her job included managing Swanson’s calendar and her professional contacts and arranging meetings, including those with legislators.

But, McEwen says, she was disappointed to discover that Swanson relied almost completely on Mike Hatch, her predecessor and political mentor, in running the office and deciding about matters that arose. Hatch, who had just been defeated in his own run for governor, had stayed on (somewhat awkwardly and controversially) in the AG’s office under circumstances that suggested that he was still exerting a lot of influence if not outright control.

“It was embarrassing,” McEwen said. Legislators and other officials who had business to discuss with the AG’s office would come in to see Swanson, and she generally wouldn’t even take the meeting. Instead, McEwan said, Swanson would buy time, try to find out indirectly what the legislators wanted, or have Hatch call them to find out, and then he would decide how to respond.

“She’s an intelligent woman,” McEwen said of Swanson, who is now a candidate for governor. “But she didn’t have the confidence to respond face-to-face to people who needed her to make a decision.”

“It was strange,” McEwan told me.

McEwen pushed back a bit, then a bit more, and when her attitude about the not-very-secret role of Hatch as the major decision-maker in the office became too obvious, she was fired, in her third year on the job.

Like a lot of others who have worked in the office during the Hatch-Swanson era, McEwen decided to go quietly for fear of retribution if she criticized them publicly.

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