Minnesota's House speaker suspended the committee chairmanship of state Rep. Tony Cornish after two women accused him of sexual harassment, the second allegation against a sitting lawmaker in as many days.
Rep. Erin Maye Quade shared text messages with the Star Tribune from Cornish, a Republican, who said he "got busted" staring at her on the House floor in May, saying it was her fault: "Look too ... good."
And a longtime female lobbyist, who asked the newspaper not to publish her name due to fear it would hurt her career, said Cornish has propositioned her for sex dozens of times and once pushed her against a wall in his office while trying to kiss her. In a 2010 incident, the lobbyist said Cornish used crude language to point out that he had an erection and said, "You can't leave."
In a string of text messages with The Associated Press, Cornish said his exchange with Maye Quade was "obviously a congenial conversation" and one of many text messages they shared over the past year. But he called the lobbyist's accusations completely false.
"There was no interaction that even resembled that in my office," Cornish said. "But with the mistrust in politicians today naturally some people will believe it."
Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt issued a statement late Thursday announcing he had suspended Cornish's chairmanship of the Public Safety and Crime Prevention committee, where Cornish has been the face of efforts to expand gun laws and crack down on protesters who have shut down highways in the last several years. Daudt also asked the House's nonpartisan human resources staff to investigate the allegations.
Daudt called the accusations "extremely troubling."
"I spoke with Rep. Cornish and told him that his reported actions were inappropriate and unacceptable as a member of our caucus and the Legislature," Daudt said in a statement.
Asked if he had been pushed to resign, Cornish said: "I have not been asked by anyone to resign nor has it even been hinted to me by anyone. Definitely not."
The allegations against Cornish came as several of Minnesota's top Democrats urged state Sen. Dan Schoen to resign after accusations that he sexually harassed women on the campaign trail, including grabbing a woman's buttocks. The Democrat from St. Paul Park said the allegations are false or that his actions were taken out of context, and suggested he has no plans to quit.
Schoen informed Senate Democrats he had hired an attorney, a spokeswoman for Senate Democrats said late Thursday, a sign he plans to fight a potential ethics complaint.
Schoen has served in the Legislature since 2013 and also works as a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Cottage Grove. Cornish is a retired police officer who has served in the Legislature since 2002.
The allegations against the two Minnesota lawmakers come amid a tide of sexual harassment and assault allegations against powerful figures in politics, media and entertainment, including movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
The incidents prompted several female victims of alleged sexual harassment — including Maye Quade — to call upon Gov. Mark Dayton and other legislative leaders to establish a new state task force. They recommended the state implement a new reporting system, overhaul sexual harassment training and create a new process for lawmakers to investigate claims — one separate from the current House and Senate ethics committees, where complaints often deadlock on partisan votes.
"Minnesota state government should set the standard for zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace," their statement said.
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