The Minnesota Legislature has been relatively free of sex-related scandals, which is one reason why recent harassment allegations came as a bit of a surprise to some.
The difference between a scandal five years ago and a couple in recent days shows how times have changed.
After then-Rep. Kerry Gauthier of Duluth was caught in 2012 having oral sex with a 17-year-old boy at a rest area, there were no immediate calls for his resignation.
Kurt Zellers, the Republican House speaker at the time, recalled on Thursday, Nov. 9, that he waited for a police report on the incident before he issued a call for Gauthier to quit.
Eventually, House Democratic leader Paul Thissen said Gauthier should not run again, but the leader did not call for his resignation.
Thiessen said Gauthier’s conduct was inappropriate.
The Gauthier incident contrasts to the current situation.
Shortly after MinnPost.com revealed sexual harassment allegations against state Sen. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, numerous Democrats called for him to resign.
Republicans were mostly silent about the Schoen incident for hours, other than the party chairwoman condemning his actions.
In the hours after Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, was accused of sexual harassment, the only Republicans to respond in public was House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown; he suspended Cornish’s committee chairmanship.
Most people around the Capitol seem to expect more harassment complaints to come from women — legislators, staff or lobbyists — against male lawmakers.
“There are years worth of pent up allegations from people involved in state politics and government that have either gone unreported or unaddressed,” Briana Bierschbach reported in MinnPost Friday.
She earlier broke the Schoen story.
“It actually is kind of surprising,” Zellers said after learning of Schoen’s situation.
He said that he does not recall a formal sex ethics complaint while he was speaker, although he said he did hear “some rumors and innuendo” about Cornish. On Friday, he asked that Cornish resign.
Zellers was speaker from 2011 to 2013.
The public may be disappointed in lawmakers who are alleged to have crossed the line, Zellers said. “People expect them to behave themselves.”
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, was surprised, like Zellers. “I am at a loss for words.”
But he soon knew what to say.
“It has to be dealt with,” Dahms said, adding that many members now will check to see when they last took training about how to avoid sex harassment.
“I don’t think it is prevalent,” Dahms added.
Talk around the Capitol, however, indicates that more allegations can be expected.
Finstad, Martin named
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has named leaders of two of his department’s Minnesota offices.
Joe Martin will be Farm Service Agency director. He has worked for Farm Bureau and was the assistant state agriculture commissioner.
He lives in LeSueur County where he and his wife Staci run a small cattle operation.
Brad Finstad will be rural development director. He is a former state legislator and is leaving a job as CEO of the Center for Rural Policy and Development, Minnesota’s only statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan rural policy research center.
With Finstad’s departure, the center named Marnie Werner, vice president for research and operations, as interim executive director.
Transgender tweet draws heat
A tweet by Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, about two transgender candidates was criticized as “hateful” by Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin, Al Edenloff of the Alexandria Echo Press reports.
On Wednesday morning, Nov. 8, after Minneapolis voters elected two transgender candidates to their city council, Franson tweeted: “A guy who thinks he’s a girl is still a guy with a mental condition.”
In response, Martin issued a news release saying that Minnesota made history by electing Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham as the first two openly transgender African-American candidates to a city council in the nation.
“Rep. Franson’s hurtful remarks attempt to cheapen this historic victory and take the wind out of the sails of equality,” Martin said. “We won’t let that happen.”
Franson replied: “There are times I don’t practice kindness. For that I am sorry. While I do believe that one can’t change their gender based on their feelings, I didn’t need to tweet out my thoughts. God created man and woman but then sin entered the world and disrupted his perfect plan.”
The newly elected Minneapolis council members are Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham.
Jenkins, a 56-year-old black transgender woman, was a policy aide to two previous council members. Cunningham, a 29-year-old black transgender man, worked in the mayor’s office.
The latest is that Franson’s Twitter and Facebook accounts have been deactivated.