Editorial: Harassment — Congress circles the wagons

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, November 30, 2017

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, has submitted his resignation from the Minnesota House. Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, has also said he will step down over allegations of improper behavior with women in and around the Legislature.

This contrasts rather markedly with Congress, where harassment allegations may create something of a media storm but little evident internal pressure to step down.

Credible allegations against Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, both Democrats, have been greeted with silence or defense by their colleagues.

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It may well be that the leadership of both parties in Washington suspects (or knows) that if every member of Congress who has behaved improperly were to resign they would have difficulty mustering a quorum.

But certainly the reaction by Minnesota’s legislative leadership to the Schoen and Cornish cases were much stronger than the reaction in Washington to Franken and Conyers.

Within hours of the Schoen revelations, his caucus leader, Tom Bakk, and Gov. Mark Dayton called for his resignation — even though he represents a swing seat (both House members from his district are Republican) and even though the Senate is narrowly divided. Within hours of the Cornish revelations, House Speaker Kurt Daudt suspended him from his chairmanship, and within days, former Speaker Kurt Zellers publicly contradicted Cornish’s assertions that nobody had ever spoken to him about his conduct.

Firing an elected official isn’t supposed to be easy. NBC can (and did) fire longtime “Today” anchor Matt Lauer within hours of a credible allegation, but no one person can fire a senator, state or national. That is as it should be.

But leadership can make it clear to a transgressor that the internal consequences for such behavior will be stiff enough that it’s better to leave. If Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell are serious about changing Congress’ culture on this issue, they cannot hide behind promised “ethics investigations.”

There is reason to believe Cornish and Schoen are not unique at the Minnesota Capitol, and it seems likely that legislative leaders were insufficiently active in policing their behavior until the revelations. That, we hope, will change moving forward. We suspect that the fate of those two will deter others, at least until memories fade.

Ending legislative careers certainly figures to be more effective than harassment training. Anybody who needs a class to learn that grabbing women’s rears is inappropriate, or that the Capitol isn’t a dating pool, doesn’t belong in office to begin with.

— Mankato Free Press, Nov. 30

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