A Democratic state senator and Republican House representative announced Tuesday they will resign from the Minnesota Legislature after multiple women accused both men of sexual harassment during their time in office.
DFL Sen. Dan Schoen’s attorney, Paul Rogosheske, said the senator will resign in a Wednesday afternoon news conference. Schoen was facing mounting pressure to step down from top leaders in his own party, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
In a statement, Republican Rep. Tony Cornish said he plans to step down on Dec. 1 after serving eight terms in the House. He was facing an outside investigation into allegations that he propositioned lobbyist Sarah Walker for sex more than 40 times.
“We asked Representative Tony Cornish to offer his resignation from the Minnesota House of Representatives. Over the last week, it has become increasingly clear his resignation is the most appropriate course of action for him, his constituents, and our institution,” Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin said in a statement. “As House leaders, we will continue to take concrete steps to combat misconduct at the legislature and ensure a safe and respectful work environment for legislators, staff, lobbyists, and the public.”
The resignations are the latest in a sexual harassment scandal that has swept up the nation and now the Minnesota Capitol.
On Nov. 8, MinnPost reported allegations from two women that Schoen, 42, had sexually harassed them. One of the women, Lindsey Port, a former DFL candidate for the House, said in 2015 Schoen came up from behind her at a campaign event and grabbed her buttocks, telling her she had a “good door-knocking ass.” Schoen, a first-term senator, was serving his second term in the House at that time.
“It brings me no joy to see Senator Schoen resign, but it does bring relief to see that we can hold people responsible,” Port said in a statement. “We have a choice as a society to make the necessary changes to protect people in the workplace from harassment, and I’m hopeful that doesn’t end with a few resignations, but with a renewed commitment to stand together and say ‘No more.’”
Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, said Schoen also repeatedly invited her out for drinks and to his home one evening, mistakenly texting Maye Quade: “’I almost got her. Working on her pretty hard, but I almost got her,’” she said. Port reported what happened to DFL Rep. Erin Murphy a few weeks after the incident, and former DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said he spoke to Schoen about the incident that year.
Another woman, who asked not to be identified, told MinnPost Schoen sent her a photo of male genitalia over Snapchat. A week after the initial allegations surfaced, a second woman, DFL Senate staffer Ellen Anderson, said she also received a photo of male genitalia over Snapchat from Schoen. She reported the incident to Senate human resources.
Schoen, who lives in St. Paul Park, is also a police officer for the City of Cottage Grove but has been put on administrative duties. Schoen has denied wrongdoing, and Rogosheske said he will refute claims of harassment from Port and Maye Quade in his Wednesday press conference. Schoen’s attorney said the photo of genitialia was mistakenly sent to Anderson, and the photo sent to the other woman was “taken out of context.” He is resigning, Rogosheske said, beacause of a “toxic” culture at the Capitol that cropped up following the allegations.
Cornish’s resignation comes amid an independent investigation and after an extensive report from MPR News that showed a pattern of behavior from the eight-term Republican that included sending messages to women about their appearance, talking about conquests he hoped to make and treating the Legislature like his own “personal dating pool.”
“As a proud former peace officer and longtime champion for public safety, I am forced to face the reality that I have made some at the Capitol feel uncomfortable, and disrespected. To those individuals and specifically the unnamed lobbyist, I sincerely apologize for my unwelcome behavior,” Cornish said in a statement. “I would also like to apologize to God, my family, my constituents, and friends for the mistakes I have made.”
Cornish, 66, said he reached an agreement “in principle” with Walker, who came forward Tuesday as the lobbyist who accused him of unwanted advances. The agreement stipulated that he apologize, resign and “provide each other with a mutual release of any claims against each other now and in the future.”
“No one should be forced to accept sexual harassment in exchange for the opportunity to work on issues in the political arena or anywhere else,” Walker said in a statement.
Both resignations must be submitted to the office of Gov. Mark Dayton, who will decide when to call a special election for the House and Senate seats. The southeast metro Senate district held by Schoen is represented by two Republicans in the House and will be hotly contested in a special election. Republicans hold a narrow 34-33 majority in the Senate. Cornish, who lives in Vernon Center, represents a solidly conservative district.