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Mike Creger, Forum Communications, Published August 18 2012

Rest stop incident leads to calls for legislator to resign

Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle has entered the race for state representative in House District 7B following news this week of an alleged sexual liaison between Rep. Kerry Gauthier and a 17-year-old at a rest area off Interstate 35 in Duluth.

Fosle’s action comes as Republicans call on Gauthier to resign. Gauthier is up for re-election in November as his freshman two-year term as 7B representative expires.

No charges were filed in the case, but police say in the investigative documents that Gauthier and the teen admitted having consensual oral sex at the rest stop.

Fosle said Friday night that he has filed the paperwork with the state to run as a write-in candidate against DFLer Gauthier and Republican Travis Silvers in the Nov. 6 election.

Minnesota’s Speaker of the House of Representatives Kurt Zellers earlier on Friday issued the first call for Gauthier to resign from the House.

“While no charges have been filed, the reported incident with a minor and subsequent lying to police show Representative Gauthier to be unfit to continue serving his constituents in Duluth,” Zellers wrote in a statement. “Representative Gauthier’s actions are not becoming of a member of the House of Representatives, and today I am calling on him to resign from the Legislature.”�

The Minnesota DFL Party said it was still assessing the situation and waiting to hear from Gauthier, who remained in a hospital Friday after being admitted for unspecified reasons Wednesday, the day the News Tribune’s first reports on the incident appeared.

When told that Gauthier was in the hospital, the spokesman for Zellers, Kevin Watterson, said it didn’t change the speaker’s comments.

“I believe we have given Representative Gauthier and the Democrat caucus a respectful amount of time to address this situation on their own,” Zellers wrote.

Before the release of Zeller’s comments, the DFL Party’s director of communications, Kate Monson, said there wasn’t enough information to comment on Gauthier’s future.

Later, on the Twin Cities Public Television program “Almanac,” DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said the Gauthier situation was “unfortunate” and the legislator would ultimately have to explain his actions and answer to voters in his Duluth district.

“It was wrong and Rep. Gauthier should know better,” Martin said. “We do not condone this type of behavior.”

Martin said he has not been able to speak to Gauthier.

After his appearance on the show, Martin told the News Tribune that he will continue to make efforts to contact Gauthier.

“We plan on having a difficult and delicate conversation with him,” Martin said.

The News Tribune left a message with Gauthier earlier in the week. By Friday his voicemail was full and unable to except new messages.

If Gauthier were to resign before the general election, there is no mechanism in state election law to change the registered candidate on the ballot now that the primary election has been held.

“No, a candidate cannot withdraw,” said Pat Turgeon, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office. “The name would stay on the ballot.”

Gauthier could be elected and then resign, Turgeon said. That would trigger a special election before the Legislative session begins in 2013.

Fosle hopes to avert all of that by winning as a write-in candidate. He said he has thought about running for state representative for years and was willing to wait a few more before the news about Gauthier became public this week.

His children are older and he’s ready to serve, Fosle said.

“I want to give the citizens of 7B the representation they need,” he said.

Fosle and Gauthier served together on the Duluth City Council until Gauthier’s election to the House in 2010. They often took opposing positions on city issues.

Gauthier’s election to the City Council in 2009 came after serving in the DFL for 36 year. He was a state party treasurer and congressional district chairman.

Under state election law, a write-in candidate for county, state or federal office must file a written request with the Secretary of State’s office by Oct. 30 for the votes to be counted in the election.

State Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge threw the first political jab Thursday after Gauthier missed a legislative meeting about aid to victims of June flooding in Duluth and other communities.

“Today, Gauthier’s constituents have legitimate reason to believe that what he terms a ‘private matter’ is preventing him from doing his job representing them,” Shortridge said.

Shortridge, who appeared with Martin on “Almanac” Friday evening, said Gauthier should resign immediately.

Gauthier remains at St. Luke’s hospital after being brought there by first responders Wednesday morning.

The News Tribune first heard about Gauthier’s medical condition from Duluth City Council member Sharla Gardner. She has declined to elaborate on Gauthier’s condition or the reason he was admitted.

On Friday she asked that his privacy be respected and said “he deserves a bit of time to heal.”

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Mike Creger writes for the Duluth News Tribune