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Viewpoint: Elected officials get candid on social media

Snarky quips. Subtle political barbs. Big issues sometimes reduced to back-and-forth squabbles.

You won’t hear much of that at a Cottage Grove City Council meeting, where cordiality usually reigns.

It’s a different story on Facebook and Twitter, where council members and other politicos sometimes trade shots at one another and replace benign chatter with blunt opinion. Their supporters then fuel the little flare-ups over who’s more business-friendly or who’s talking trash about whom.

Trading jabs via social media certainly isn’t anything new, but sometimes it shows another side of how your elected officials (past and present) interact with one another. To be fair, local leaders use social media for more than just criticizing one another, but it’s the barbs that we don’t hear elsewhere. Many voters probably haven’t seen this side of them.

So jump into the playground of political pettiness and have a look:

There was a doozy of an exchange last month between Jen Peterson and John Kriesel. Peterson is a Cottage Grove City Council member. Recall that Peterson, a Democrat, and Kriesel, a Republican, ran against each other for the Minnesota House in 2010. Kriesel won, served a term and bowed out, but he’s continued to amass a following on Twitter.

He turned to social media to ridicule a survey pointing to Cottage Grove — his resident city — as a good spot for job seekers.

“There are no jobs in Cottage Grove,” Kriesel tweeted.

Peterson wasn’t going to let that go unanswered.

“So remind me about all the jobs you brought to Cottage Grove when you were our rep,” Peterson wrote.

Game on.

“Still mad you lost, I see,” Kriesel replied.


Peterson said she wasn’t mad and then cited some of Cottage Grove’s largest employers.

“How many of those jobs did YOU create?” Kriesel lobbed into the Twittersphere.

“Funny, that was the question I just asked you. Still waiting on an answer,” Peterson fired back.

The back-and-forth continued — and continued to devolve. There were rehashed, vague potshots about the 2010 campaign. Kriesel said Peterson looked like a “sore loser.” She said he has a big ego.

Enlightening, eh?

There have been other online dust-ups.

Council member Derrick Lehrke and his wife, Autumn, a Washington County commissioner, announced plans to open a brew-pub at the Red Rock Saloon in Newport. That generated comments from Peterson on Facebook that it didn’t seem right to her that as an elected official Autumn Lehrke should benefit from a county funded development. That’s the kind of remark you’d be hard-pressed to hear at a public meeting and yet one perhaps worthy of a more substantive debate.

It was a revealing comment — but not everybody saw it. Derrick Lehrke later went to Facebook asking to know what Peterson was saying about him because she had “blocked” him from viewing her comments. Others chimed in. Lehrke questioned Peterson’s motives. On it went.

In another episode, Autumn Lehrke was quoted in a news story saying she’s done more for transit in a short time than her predecessor, Myra Peterson, had done in a decade.

The former commissioner’s supporters rallied around her on Facebook, including Jen Peterson, Olsen and Mayor Myron Bailey. They disapproved of Lehrke’s comment, but it’s unlikely that tsk-tsk would be offered in a broader public forum than a Facebook feed.

These are your elected officials. You may want to see how they interact with one another and express their opinions. Just make sure to look in the right place.

Wente is editor of the Bulletin.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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