Governor welcomes the resignations of legislators

Published 9:32 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2017

ST. PAUL  — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday welcomed the imminent resignations of two male lawmakers accused of repeated sexual harassment as an important first step to cleaning up misconduct in state politics.

Democratic state Sen. Dan Schoen was the first to move toward an exit, planning a Wednesday afternoon news conference to announce his resignation. He faces a swirl of sexual harassment allegations, including that he grabbed a woman’s buttocks during a political event and sent photos of male genitalia to a female Senate staffer. His attorney said Schoen’s resignation would be effective Dec. 15.

Republican Rep. Tony Cornish announced Tuesday night he’d leave his southwestern Minnesota House by Dec. 1. Cornish was accused of widespread sexual misconduct during his eight terms in the Legislature, including a lobbyist who said Cornish propositioned her for sex dozens of times and once forced her into a wall while trying to kiss her.

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“These are very important first steps,” Dayton said of their resignations. Since those allegations first came to light, Dayton launched a review to overhaul the executive branch’s training and reporting procedures for sexual harassment.

Collectively, the two lawmakers faced allegations from at least six women — and Cornish was the subject of a lawsuit from the lobbyist. Cornish apologized to those women, saying in a statement: “I am forced to face the reality that I have made some at the Capitol feel uncomfortable, and disrespected.”

But Schoen planned to continue fighting the accusations while vacating his Cottage Grove-area Senate seat. Attorney Paul Rogosheske said Wednesday Schoen would present evidence to dispute some of the allegations, and said that the photo of male genitalia sent to a Senate staffer was intended for a different recipient.

Rogosheske had previously said Schoen had never sent photos of his genitals to anyone.

Schoen works as a police officer for the Cottage Grove Police Department, which assigned him to administrative duties when allegations against him surfaced earlier this month. Schoen remains on administrative duties and no complaints of misconduct have been reported in connection with the department, city administrator Charlene Stevens said Wednesday.

Their departures will trigger special elections to replace them. Dayton said he planned to meet with party leaders next week to discuss the timing of those elections, and hoped to have the seats filled before the Legislature returns Feb. 20.