ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota legislator whose tweet about the NBA aroused cries of racism is known as a feisty lawmaker who has long enjoyed ribbing his liberal counterparts.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, a fifth-term Republican from Farmington, has faced an avalanche of criticism for suggesting this weekend that pro basketball players had criminal tendencies, but didn't back down from the statement Monday.
"Let's be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime," Garofalo tweeted Sunday night. About three-fourths of the NBA's players are black, according to a 2013 report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
His post has drawn hundreds of comments — some branding him a racist and others using statistics to rebut the idea of rampant violations in the NBA compared to American society in general — and been retweeted more than 1,100 times. Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic Party, took to his own Twitter account to call Garofalo's post "incredibly racist."
Garofalo, 42, declined a request for an interview Monday but didn't back down in text message to The Associated Press.
"Pro sports leagues have a problem with some of their athletes obeying the law," Garofalo wrote in the text message. "This problem transcends race and is a symptom of the value athletes believe society puts on their athletic talent."
The blunt commentary is nothing new for Garofalo, who regularly makes sharp-tongued speeches on the Minnesota House floor and even edgier remarks online.
Garofalo's Twitter feed is typically a mix of sarcastic takes on politics, pop culture and sports. During football and NASCAR seasons, he offers his predictions via his pet whom he dubs "Buddy The Sports Gambling Dog."
"If the bird watching, hippy, tofu-eating vegan liberals in Minneapolis had their way, the Iron Range never would have mined taconite either," he tweeted last month, referring to a statewide debate over a copper-nickel mine project proposed for northern Minnesota.
Garofalo represents a district south of the Twin Cities and is seeking a sixth term in the fall.
Despite his tendency for partisan rhetoric, Garofalo isn't a no-holds-barred ideologue. Last year, he was one of four House Republicans who voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage.
That vote complicated the re-election campaigns of the other Republicans he joined in support of same-sex marriage, and two are no longer seeking to return to the Legislature. But Garofalo won his local GOP endorsement last month and has plenty of money banked for his race.
He also backs stadium initiatives for the Twin Cities' professional sports teams, voting in favor of both the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins stadium bills. The Vikings bill also gave the city of Minneapolis clearance to upgrade the arena where the state's NBA team — the Minnesota Timberwolves — play.
The last time a Timberwolves player ran into legal trouble was in 2010, when Michael Beasley, who's now with the Miami Heat, was ticketed for speeding and possessing marijuana in a Twin Cities suburb.
Garofalo is the second Minnesota legislator in the last year whose tweets attracted national attention and accusations of racism. In June, Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley apologized and deleted a tweet that referred to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as "Uncle Thomas" following a major ruling on the nation's landmark voting rights law.
Rep. Dan Schoen, a Democrat, said he's heard nothing in Garofalo's past public or private remarks that could be regarded as racist.
"It was the wrong thing to tweet," Schoen said. "Do I think Pat is a racist? No I don't think that.
"Sometimes people forget when they are in certain positions what they say can have a lasting effect of people's impression upon them and the rest of legislators they serve with."