What started out as a run-of-the-mill political debate on Facebook took a turn Wednesday when a candidate for the Minnesota Legislature from Rochester made reference to the Second Amendment in a message directed to a critic. Some online readers took the message to be a threat.
Kenneth Bush is running as the Republican candidate for Minnesota House District 25B, covering much of the north half of Rochester. His opponent is the DFL-endorsed Liz Bolden.
Abe Sauer, a local business owner who frequently comments online about Rochester-area politics, made a Facebook post critical of a comment Bush made this week in a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters.
According to Sauer, Bush mischaracterized a local political appointment, saying he served on the "planning commission here in Rochester” as “the chairman of the board.” Bush is a member of the Olmsted County Planning Advisory Commission, not the Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission.
Sauer's post set off a debate, the kind many people may recognize from their own dealings on social media. But then Bush wrote: “2nd amendment buddy. stay away from me abe sauer.” That set off further debate, in which several people following the discussion characterized Bush’s comment, referencing the constitutional right to bear arms, as a threat.
Sauer doesn’t live in District 25B and can’t vote in the race. He said he didn't take Bush’s comment seriously, but did say he feels it demonstrates that Bush lacks the temperament for politics and the criticism that politicians face.
“Asking somebody questions … is not a threat to your life that you need to feel to defend yourself from," Sauer said. "I think he legitimately thinks his life is in danger because I’m asking questions. That is why I don’t want him to be representing anybody.”
Bush countered that he believes Sauer is a threat himself, for public social media comments he makes, as well as comments sent in direct messages to Bush. The two said they've never met in person.
“I’ve felt threatened and intimidated by this man, especially as a Black person running for public office. I don’t feel safe running for office, and I haven't for some time,” Bush said. “I don’t want to hurt Abe, at all. I don’t want to hurt anybody, but I will stand my ground if someone physically attacks me.”
When asked about the direct messages, Sauer shared with the Post Bulletin copies of a private exchange with Bush conducted in June, what Sauer said constitutes all of their private exchanges. In the messages, Sauer asked which specific legislative votes the current representative, Duane Sauke, made that Bush would have made differently.
Bush responded in those messages that he has no special agenda and is running to represent his hometown.
In regards to the Second Amendment comment, Bush clarified that he did not mean it as a literal threat.
“I don’t have a gun. I don’t want to use a gun,” he said.
This is not the first public disagreement involving Bush. In 2018, he reportedly carried on a loud argument with a Rochester mayoral candidate in a downtown coffee shop. Bush disagrees with those who say the incidents show he can't face the kinds of criticisms politicians face daily.
“Do I have the temperament for politics? Absolutely. I’m a trailblazer. I face criticism every day in my life, when I walk out of the house as a Black man,” he said.
Overall, Bush said he respects Sauer’s activism and he plans to be more careful in his responses in the future.
“I think it is a good thing that we speak our minds. We don’t speak them the way our heart thinks sometimes, because we’re imperfect. But we do our best,” Bush said. “I will watch my words.”