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North Dakota senator to constituent: 'Don’t demand it because you’re mad you’re not a man'

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BISMARCK — A North Dakota lawmaker has apologized after telling a constituent she shouldn’t demand a job “because you’re mad you’re not a man” when she asked him to vote against withdrawing the state’s support of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr, responded Thursday, March 28, to Angie Schmidt Benz’s email, which urged him to vote no on House Concurrent Resolution 3037. He wrote that he believed the resolution wouldn’t do anything negative and that he supports women being equal to men when it comes to job opportunities.

Toward the end of his response, Erbele wrote “plumbing should not be the criteria or preference for any given job.”

“Do what you want to within the abilities and graces that God has given you, but don’t demand it because you’re mad you’re not a man,” he wrote in the email.

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Damschen, R-Hampden, failed Monday, April 1, in the Senate 24-23.

Proponents said it would clarify the state’s 1975 ratification of the ERA by recognizing the deadline to adopt the amendment into the U.S. Constitution had lapsed. Some have criticized the resolution, saying it's an insult to men and women who worked toward equal rights.

Erbele sponsored the resolution in the Senate, but wrote in his email to Benz that he is “really soft on this bill and probably shouldn’t have signed on.”

Benz, of Moffit, N.D., said she was pleased with Erbele’s email until she read the last several sentences. “I was very taken aback when I read it,” she told The Forum Tuesday.

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She said she is not mad because she is not a man. “I’m angry that we still have to fight for equal rights,” she said.

Correspondence between North Dakota legislators and their constituents is not public record, but Benz sent the letter to The Forum and said she felt the need to call out Erbele.

In her email, Benz said “the ERA is an important piece of history pertaining to women and our rights.”

“We also need our Legislature to start changing with the times,” Benz told The Forum.

Erbele told The Forum he should have ended the letter with, “Do what you want within the abilities and graces that God has given you."

"The point I wanted to make was made at that point, and the rest just threw it off message," he said in an email to The Forum. "I sincerely apologize to anyone I offended. The line creating the negativity wasn’t well-phrased."

He said hindsight is a "wonderful gift," but he considers the matter closed, adding there are "more important issues to focus on."

"We are all human beings, and we need good and qualified people in all walks of life regardless of gender or ethnic origin," he wrote. "These are my true feelings, and making this a newsworthy issue does nothing to bring civility into the public arena."

Benz said she holds no ill-will toward Erbele for his statements, but noted that it's important to address such statements and find out why people say such things.