Lindsey Port was one of the most unusual cases of Me Too backlash.
In 2017, as a Democratic candidate for the Minnesota state House, she spoke out about the sexual harassment she faced from a state legislator in her own party. The man, Dan Schoen, resigned from the state Senate, and Port received significant support for coming forward.
But then the finger-pointing began.
Port somehow ended up getting blamed for the downfall of Al Franken, Minnesota’s U.S. senator who resigned in January 2018 amid allegations of groping from multiple women. Port didn’t know Franken, and she never called on him to step down.
But the backlash was so severe that she ended up dropping her bid for public office and faced financial repercussions at her company.
Now, she is trying again. Port, 37, has announced that she is running for Minnesota state Senate, hoping that what she went through since 2017 will help her flip this district next year.
“Over the last two years in the challenges that I faced in speaking truth to power, it became really clear to me that we need voices who are not afraid to challenge leadership and the status quo,” she told HuffPost. “We need those people running at all levels of government.”
Dropping 2018 Campaign Bid
Port was one of the most visible faces of the Me Too movement in 2017. She and Erin Maye Quade, who was then a Democratic member of the state House, accused Schoen of harassment, and he resigned shortly thereafter.
Port initially received an outpouring of goodwill. But then, the Franken allegations surfaced.
Franken was one of the most beloved figures in the state, and many Democrats didn’t want him to resign, even after a number of women accused him of groping them.
Suddenly, people in the party began questioning not only the Me Too movement, but also Port. Her willingness to call attention to sexual harassment went from being applauded to being scrutinized. Members of her own party said she had “softened the ground” for Franken’s resignation. Others even wondered if she was secretly a conservative operative who had planned to take down the popular senator all along.
This backlash cost Port significantly. About a week after Franken resigned, Port dropped her bid for the Minnesta state House because donors began pulling their contributions. Blueprint Campaigns, Port’s nonprofit that helps progressive individuals from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds run for office, also lost donations.
“We had $70,000 pulled the week that Al Franken said he was going to resign,” Port told HuffPost at the time. “In that same window, I also lost $6,000 from my own campaign.”
One person asked that her contribution to the campaign be returned. The rest of the unhappy donors, to both the campaign and the nonprofit, pulled their pledges. One donor told Port that she was “too controversial” to support at that time.
‘I Don’t Regret Speaking Out’
Since launching her state Senate campaign last week, Port said she received an outpouring of support. She raised $10,000 in the first 24 hours ― and not a single voter has brought up the Franken issue.
“I think the Me Too movement in general, the conversation has shifted a bit from specific cases and people ― feelings about any particular case ― to how are we going to have this conversation moving forward,” Port said. “I’m not super interested in relitigating any particular case that has come out through the Me Too movement, but I’m really interested in figuring out what is the path forward?”
But reporters have asked about it, and donors could. After all, it was donors who withdrew their support in 2017.
“I think the donors in Minnesota know that there’s not a path to Democrats winning the majority in the Senate without this district,” Port said. “So I don’t expect it to be a huge issue. I haven’t heard it yet.”
State Senate District 56 is a top target for Democrats in 2020. It’s currently held by a Republican, Dan Hall, although Hillary Clinton carried it in 2016 with 52 percent of the vote. Port is in a primary against Robert Timmerman, 37, who is vice chair of the Burnsville Planning Commission.
Port said she’s planning to focus her campaign on issues like health care. Her family has purchased health care off the public exchange for years, so she knows the challenges of finding affordable, accessible care. Education ― making sure the state holds up its end of the bargain so that communities don’t have to foot the entire bill ― is another major topic, along with gun violence prevention.
But she also knows that her experience speaking out against Schoen ― and the blame she faced for Franken ― could come up. And while it won’t be her focus, she believes what she went through made her a stronger candidate.
“The thing that I learned the most through that process is while there is a cost for being loud and calling out bad behavior and issues when you see them, I’m not afraid to do that. I don’t regret speaking out,” she said. “And I will continue to push my party and Republicans to do the right thing and make sure that we are standing up for our community. That’s the thing that folks can take away from that is that I’ve already shown that I am not afraid to do what’s right even if there’s a cost to me.”