State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, known for his candor, opened up a firestorm of social media commentary Thursday and Friday when he replied to a Lincoln woman's email with what he defined as sarcasm.
"I'm just pulling their chain," he said Friday.
Tina Koeppe, who runs a historic services business and formerly worked for the Nebraska State Historical Society, shared that reply on Facebook, and the response from her friends resounded.
"What the heck did you say Tina?" one friend asked.
She titled her 5:04 p.m. Thursday email to Groene, "Embarrassing!"
Then she went on to say:
"Are you seriously wasting taxpayer money with your bill regarding licensed animal massage? How much time was spent discussing this bill?
"And now you claim that there is no need for psychologists in schools?
"What is wrong with you?
"Do you live in the real world?
"You are making a mockery of our state with your ignorant foolishness.
"It is time for you to step down. I hope you have enjoyed your time as a politician."
Senators did spend a few hours on Groene's horse massage bill (LB596), which will require anyone who does horse massage for compensation to show evidence of a degree or certificate, recommendations from veterinarians and to pay a fee. Currently, they must have a human massage therapy license.
Groene also opposed a bill (LB998) that would put a social worker in every Educational Service Unit across the state. He understands people need mental health treatment, he said, but he doesn't want education dollars to be spent on mental health treatment. "We don't have enough education dollars."
Groene, the Education Committee chair who is known for his unvarnished responses to emails, including those from students, responded to Koeppe by asking her if she had considered asking for help for her "anger and paranoia issues." He went on:
"There are three ladies in Lincoln County that will be opening separate equine massage clinics now that we have removed regulatory barriers. I am considering having her contact you. For you see, equine includes zebras, horses, mules, donkeys and 'asses.' Since you fit one of those categories those ladies will now legally be able to help you with your hateful stress."
Koeppe posted Groene's reply on Facebook, saying: "That feeling when you email an elected Nebraska official with your thoughts on two different recent issues and they respond by calling you an ass. #senatormikegroene #wow"
Her friends responded with name-calling and expressed shock at what they called his disrespect of constituents.
One woman said someone she knew sent him a link to an article on "How to Respond to Angry or Emotional Emails, Professionally," from themuse.com.
In another response to Koeppe, Groene told her he was a public figure and his answers are honest and up-front, a rarity in politics and public education. He told her his constituents applaud his bluntness.
Groene told the Journal Star that Koeppe is an internet troll, has done this to a couple of other senators, and her email was meant to bait him. She attacked him on issues and was "really rude," he said.
"I told her she needed to go find some help for her anger issues," he said.
He explained animal massage for zebras, horses, mules, donkeys and asses, he said, and that one of those ladies might be able to help her.
"But then she assumed I was talking about asses. No, I just thought maybe she owned a horse. And she took it rudely," Groene said.
By 4 p.m. Friday Koeppe's Facebook post had been shared 171 times.