Erik Simonson, a Minnesota state senator, has caught flak for introducing a bill that would secure $1 million in state infrastructure bonds for Lake Superior College a few weeks before he started a new job there, The Star Tribune has reported. Simonson is now the executive director of continuing education and customized training at Lake Superior.
Though government ethics experts said the situation represents a conflict of interest, Simonson disputes the assertion, saying that the Duluth college is in his district and he applied for many jobs once he realized his current one was ending. The thought that funding the college might be a conflict of interest “didn’t cross [his] mind.” He applied for the role in late November.
Lake Superior College officials have said that Simonson’s bonding proposal did not influence the decision to hire him. A spokesperson for the college said that Simonson and Lake Superior College president Patricia Rogers agreed in conversation that should Simonson be chosen for the role, he would recuse himself as author of the pending bond bill.
Simonson was originally meant to start the position in May, but the date was moved up as the senator’s work as CEO of the Lake Superior Zoo was ending.
Most Minnesota legislators hold jobs outside of lawmaking. They meet at the Capitol for four months out of the year and make $46,500. Simonson is a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.