POLITICS
06/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Erickson Shotgun-Census Remark: Commerce Dept. Pushes Back

The Commerce Department is pushing back against census critics, subtly reminding conservative blogger and CNN contributor Erick Erickson that the workers whom he's threatened to pull a shotgun on are simply doing required, temporary and important work.

In a statement provided to the Huffington Post, Nicholas Kimball, a spokesman for the Commerce Department -- which oversees the 2010 census counting -- said that precautions are being made to "protect the safety of both census workers and the public."

Going through the logistics of the process, Kimball noted that the census workers dispatched to help collect raw data (in the form of a ten-point questionnaire) are usually fellow locals. Taking a small dig at Erickson, without naming names, he added:

So, that means someone knocking on a door in, for example, Macon, Georgia, is likely to be from that community or neighborhood. They're just someone looking for a little extra work during these difficult economic times - and looking to help fulfill the mission of our Founding Fathers.

Erickson, a local Republican official from Macon, has used his platform as a prominent conservative blogger to criticize the census process. In a radio interview last week, he took his concerns to an outlandish plateau, calling the idea of a census worker coming to his home to collect data "crazy."

"What gives the Commerce Department the right to ask me how often I flush my toilet? Or about going to work?" he added. "I'm not filling out this form. I dare them to try and come throw me in jail. I dare them to. Pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door. They're not going on my property. They can't do that. They don't have the legal right, and yet they're trying."

Those remarks followed a slew of other similarly incendiary comments made by conservative firebrands. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn) has been a particularly outraged voice, drawing a connection between the census and Japanese-American internment camps during World War II and insisting that she would only partially fill out her form.

That said, in recent days several GOP voices have come forward hoping to defuse the angst -- undoubtedly influenced by the possibility that the party could be badly hurt during redistricting if its members don't return their forms. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) wrote a post for Erickson's blog entitled "Returning the Census is Our Constitutional Duty", arguing that "blatant misinformation" about the census from conservatives will "hand Nancy Pelosi more congressional seats." Former Bush adviser Karl Rove, meanwhile, cut a public service announcement ad for the Census Bureau on Monday, urging people to fill out the questionnaire.

Hoping to allay concerns, Kimball stressed that the data compiled by Census Bureau statisticians is "protected by strict privacy laws," that "no government agency may access or use the specific data connected to an individual for any purpose -- and it's a federal crime for census employees to allow that to happen."