PAUL, Minn. — Two Minnesota state lawmakers hit by sexual misconduct allegations announced they would resign, less than two weeks after they were accused of misdeeds that ranged from groping colleagues to persistent unwanted sexual advances and sexting.
Democratic Sen. Dan Schoen, who allegedly grabbed a woman’s buttocks at a campaign event and made unwanted advances toward other women — including sending Snapchat photos of male genitalia to a female Senate employee — was the first to go Tuesday, with his attorney saying Schoen had decided he could no longer be effective.
Hours later, Republican Rep. Tony Cornish said he would step down by Dec. 1. Cornish was the subject of an external investigation in the House into widespread sexual misconduct over his eight terms in office, including an anonymous lobbyist who told Minnesota Public Radio News that he propositioned her for sex dozens of times over the past several years and once forced her into a wall in his office while trying to kiss her.
Cornish said in his statement that he had reached an agreement with the lobbyist to apologize and resign by Dec. 1 in exchange for being protected against future claims. He also said: “I am forced to face the reality that I have made some at the Capitol feel uncomfortable and disrespected … I sincerely apologize for my behaviour.”
It was unclear whether Schoen would make any similar admission at a planned Wednesday news conference. His attorney, Paul Rogosheske, indicated Schoen would dispute parts of the allegations made against him.
“He doesn’t feel he can be effective anymore,” Rogosheske told the Star Tribune. “And he doesn’t want to work in an environment like this.”
Their departures will close an acrimonious chapter that began when allegations about their conduct surfaced earlier this month, collectively involving at least six women who work in Minnesota politics. But some of the women who say they were victims of their harassment or unwanted advances said more allegations against other offenders may come to light.
“One senator’s resignation doesn’t change the culture. I want to change the culture,” Rep. Erin Maye Quade said after Schoen’s resignation. The freshman Democrat accused both men of making unwanted advances.
Both men faced immediate pressure to resign when the first allegations surfaced earlier in November. Both were initially defiant. Democratic leadership, from Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk — Schoen’s caucus leader — Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic Party chairman Ken Martin all called for Schoen’s resignation.
Schoen had planned to fight those calls and a brewing ethics investigation in the Senate, hiring an attorney and saying the accusations were either false or that his actions were taken out of context. The apparent reversal Tuesday afternoon came shortly after Schoen and Rogosheske met privately with Bakk.
Lindsey Port was among the first to publicly accuse Schoen of sexual harassment, alleging that he grabbed her buttocks at a party event. She said she wasn’t overjoyed that he would be quitting.
“I am glad, though, to see that we have been able at least in this instance to hold people accountable. I’m hopeful this is the start,” said Port, who ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 2016.
Cornish initially called the lobbyist’s allegations false and defended comments he made about Maye Quade’s appearance on the House floor. But as the allegations against him grew, his support waned.
After staying silent, Minnesota GOP Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan called for him to step down on Friday. Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said in a statement Tuesday he had also asked for Cornish’s resignation.
The lobbyist who accused Cornish publicly identified herself for the first time Tuesday, soon after Cornish’s announced his resignation. Sarah Walker is a longtime lobbyist who works on criminal justice issues, which Cornish had overseen as chair of the House Public Safety Committee.
“I initially chose to remain anonymous in order to avoid retaliation and to be able to continue doing the public policy work I love,” Walker said in a statement. “I am hopeful that by going public I can help others make the tough decision to speak out regarding their own stories.”
Both resignations will trigger special elections, which Dayton must schedule.
The battle to replace Schoen will be fierce — though long held by Democrats, his is a swing seat whose two House districts are controlled by Republicans. A GOP win could bolster the party’s 34-33 majority in the Senate.
Meanwhile, Cornish represents a solidly Republican district. He’s frequently won re-election without a challenger.
The resignations came in the same week that Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken was under increasing pressure after allegations by two women of improper conduct. A Los Angeles radio anchor accused Franken last week of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour and released a photo of the then-comedian grinning for the camera reaching out as if to grope her as she slept on a military aircraft. On Monday, a woman told CNN Franken squeezed her buttocks while they posed for a photo at the State Fair.
Franken apologized to the Los Angeles anchor and said he felt badly that the woman in the State Fair photo felt disrespected.