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River Falls lawmaker rejects notion 2013 clip raises 'red flag'

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Shannon Zimmerman, the freshman lawmaker seeking to succeed Sheila Harsdorf in the state Senate, fired back after a liberal group criticized remarks from a speech he made three years before being elected to the Legislature.

The River Falls Republican was the focus of a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story that highlighted a quip he made during an Oct. 22, 2013, speech as part of a UW-River Falls College of Business and Economics executive-in-residence program. Zimmerman, who along with wife Angel Zimmerman, cofounded the language translation company Sajan, is asked in the clip what the hardest language there is to translate.

"It's woman, right?" he responds, after acknowledging and gesturing to his wife in the audience. "Sometimes she says this, but she means this."

Angel Zimmerman was seated in the second row during the speech, the lawmaker later noted.

The group One Wisconsin Now seized on the clip, saying it demanded an apology from Zimmerman, who's vying with fellow Assembly member Adam Jarchow in a primary to run as the Republican in a special election to fill the vacant Senate District 10 seat.

Reached by phone Nov. 21, Zimmerman called the news story "a flaming example of the far-reaching links Democrats will go to influence this race." One Wisconsin Now, he said, is "clearly working hard to make sure that I do not get to the general election."

Timing of the clip's release coincided with a wave of sexual harassment allegations against male politicians and Hollywood executives.

"At a time when more and more women are speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse they've experienced, Shannon Zimmerman's statement that women shouldn't be believed is a huge red flag," One Wisconsin Now research director Joanna Beilman-Dulin said in a statement.

Zimmerman rejected that notion, saying his comment was intended to be a "comical or lighthearted response" in the vein of the popular 1990s book "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus," which discusses the differences in communication between the sexes.

"This is an injustice to those women who are actually experiencing" sexual harassment and abuse, he said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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