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Senator draws backlash for pilot blunder

Senator Dornink, blunder, pilot, stewardess, mn
Rick Bussler, Publisher

A gaffe by a local senator is drawing some backlash.

Sen. Gene Dornink, R-Brownsdale, accidentally called pilot Laura Haynor a “stewardess” during a recent legislative committee meeting about sick and safe time at the State Capitol in St. Paul.

During the exchange, Haynor clearly identified herself as a pilot with Delta Airlines. It turned awkward and embarrassing for Dornink when he asked Haynor, “Can you tell me what a typical work week looks like for you as a stewardess?”

When Haynor immediately corrected the lawmaker, Dornink apologized and said, “I don’t know why I said that.”

Dornink came under fire not only for incorrectly identifying Haynor, but also using a term that is outdated. Stewardesses are known as flight attendants, which is gender neutral and has been the favored term for decades.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson, a member of the Freeborn County DFLers, accused Dornink of not listening to Haynor. “The gaffe hit many women in the gut,” she said. “Women know exactly why Dornink said what he said. It’s an example of unconscious bias.”

Dornink owned up to his blunder.

“I made a mistake, and I offered my humble apology,” he said. “I am disappointed to see that some individuals have used this incident to further their own political agendas. It’s important to focus on the real issue at hand, which is the passing of meaningful legislation that helps Minnesota families.”

The senator urged everyone to take special note of comments from Shannon Watson of Majority in the Middle. While she agreed with many that Dornink’s gaffe is an illustration of the sexism that exists for women, she defended Dornink.

“Did he do it on purpose? Based on my personal interactions with this senator, I highly doubt it,” Watson said. “In my experience, he’s not that guy. His apologies sounded genuine to me. And I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” she added.

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