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Brandon Stahl, Forum Communications, Published August 22 2012

Embattled Duluth lawmaker says he's dropping out of race

DULUTH, Minn. – After starting Wednesday by announcing that he would seek re-election, embattled Duluth Rep. Kerry Gauthier ended the day by saying he wouldn’t run after all.

Gauthier made both announcements to Northland’s NewsCenter news manager Barbara Reyelts.

“He said there’s been too much fallout, that it’s been too hard on him psychologically,” Reyelts said. “I asked if he’s resigning. He said, ‘I’m not resigning; I’m withdrawing.’ And that ‘I hope to keep my health insurance benefits through the end of the year.’ ”

Gauthier would not return Duluth News Tribune requests seeking comment Wednesday.

Labor leader Alan Netland, who earlier Wednesday told the News Tribune he support Gauthier’s decision to run for re-election, said he also supported Gauthier’s decision to withdraw from the race.

“I don’t know the reason,” why he’s withdrawing, Netland said.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he spoke to Gauthier on Wednesday and told him not to run.

“I told him the decision to run was not one I could support, and that I was going to be asking the DFL to support another candidate,” Reinert said. “I’m sure he was hearing that from a lot of people.”

Indeed, throughout Wednesday, numerous DFL party leaders blasted Gauthier’s decision to run for re-election, with fellow Duluth Rep. Tom Huntley calling Gauthier “a child molester.”

“It will hurt us in every race in the state. (Republicans) will try to imply that we’re supporting him,” Huntley said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s a child molester. And I realize that it’s not illegal what he did. … But I think one needs to consider the ethics of the person, and do you want someone like that in the Legislature?”

Huntley said he believed the DFL should withdraw its nomination of Gauthier and “kick him out of the caucus.”

Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin also said Gauthier shouldn’t run.

“Gauthier’s conduct was inexcusable and he has lost the public trust,” Martin said. “He should exit the race immediately. He will receive no assistance from the state DFL Party, and we are strongly encouraging the local party leaders to rescind his endorsement.”

Gauthier told the Northland’s NewsCenter on Wednesday morning when he decided to run for re-election that despite the news that he had oral sex with a 17-year-old he met over Craigslist at the Interstate 35 Thompson Hill rest stop, “he still feels he’s the best person to represent his district,” Reyelts said.

In a statement Gauthier released to the media following the interview, he called the incident “an obvious tragic embarrassment to me. I am sorry for the hurt this has caused my family, friends and my constituents.”

“I know I made a mistake and am determined to make amends as best I can. I am a better person than this incident would indicate and will try to demonstrate this with my future behavior,” Gauthier said.

The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office has said charges are not warranted in the case of Gauthier’s rest-stop liaison because the 17-year-old is of the age of consent in Minnesota.

Gauthier said he overdosed on pain pills after the rest-stop incident was made public, resulting in a four-day hospitalization.

“I am a chemically dependent person and have been in recovery for over 30 years with one relapse,” he wrote. “However, when faced with the trauma and public shame brought about by this incident I reverted to old bad behavior and tried to run away and escape the reality that I was facing.”

When he was interviewed by NewsCenter, Gauthier was with labor leaders Netland, the past president of the Duluth AFL-CIO labor body, and Dan O’Neil, the current president of the labor body.

Netland told the News Tribune that both he and O’Neil spoke with Gauthier Tuesday night and supported his decision.

“Dan and I were on the same page on this,” Netland said, “and said that if he decided to run we’d do our best to garner labor support and to continue to support him. We’re not going to abandon him because of one indiscretion in his personal life.”

When asked about the incident on Thompson Hill, Netland responded: “It’s an unfortunate incident, but … I will not judge him based on one incident. As unfortunate an incident as it was, it does not determine who he is as a legislator or a person.”

'Destructive'

On Wednesday, Gov. Dayton told reporters that if Gauthier did seek re-election it would be “destructive” to himself, the party and elected officials. Dayton, who said he was a longtime friend of Gauther, characterized his conduct as “a terrible mistake.”

“It goes beyond the morals of Minnesotans,” he said. “I believe he is unfit to serve beyond this term.”

When asked by reporters, Dayton said he did not think Gauthier needed to resign. Though he didn’t name her, he used as an example Sen. Amy Koch of Buffalo leaving her job as Republican leader late last year but retaining her Senate seat for the rest of her term after it was revealed she and a male staffer had an affair.

However, Dayton added, if Gauthier does not participate in Friday’s special legislative session to approve disaster relief funding, he might change his mind.

“He should be doing his job and be here on Friday,” Dayton said.

Gauthier did not respond to a question from the News Tribune asking if he will be at the special session. However, he did tell NewsCenter that he probably won’t attend, fearing it would cause a distraction.

“He told me he’s afraid his fellow lawmakers will attack him if he goes,” Reyelts said.

The governor said he will be in Duluth to discuss economic issues Friday, a visit planned before the Gauthier incident became public, but he said he did not know if he would meet with the lawmaker.

Anderson: Gauthier ‘selfish’

Other party leaders besides Huntley expressed concern that if Gauthier stayed in the race he would hurt statewide races and ballot initiatives, such as the marriage amendment.

Former Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson, who recently lost a primary bid for U.S. Congress, called Gauthier’s decision to run for re-election “selfish” because it could “hurt our efforts to take back the House and has unforeseen implications for other local races and ballot measures.”

“It continues to be the story that people continue to be talking about and it’s taking our eye off the ball,” he said.

Huntley said he believes Gauthier’s decision to run would make it more likely the amendment to ban gay marriage in Minnesota will pass.

“It will lose a lot of people that could go either way, and I think this will multiply the anti-gay feelings that many people have,” he said.

Reinert said he has spoken with other Minnesota senators who say constituents ask them about the incident.

“They said if your party is supporting someone like that, I won’t vote for you,” Reinert said.

The incident at the rest stop has been picked up by national media outlets such as the Associated Press, the New York Daily News and the Drudge Report. It has also become fodder for conservative radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh.

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a statement tying Democratic congressional nominee Rick Nolan to Gauthier, because each had endorsed and supported the other before the incident was made public.

“Rick Nolan’s silence on this shocking scandal has Minnesota families wondering if he supports the behavior displayed by Rep. Gauthier. Rick Nolan wants to serve Minnesota in Congress but he is showing voters that he doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong,” the NRCC said in a statement.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge said in a statement that Gauthier’s decision to run again is “shocking and appalling.”

“This is a real test of leadership for Democrats like Rick Nolan, who has donated to Rep. Gauthier. Rick Nolan should do the right thing, use his influence, and join the chorus of Republicans and Democrats calling on Gauthier to resign,” Shortridge said.

A spokesman for Nolan did not return a News Tribune call seeking comment.

While Gauthier now apparently won’t for re-election, under state election law his name will still appear on the ballot along with Republican Party-nominated Travis Silvers.

Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle and Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Erik Simonson have said they will conduct write-in campaigns for the 7B seat.


Brandon Stahl writes for the Duluth News Tribune


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