Former House speaker calls for Rep. Cornish resignation amid sexual harassment claims
In the midst of sexual harassment allegations against Minnesota state Rep. Tony Cornish, former House Speaker Kurt Zellers is calling for the representative to resign. He said he warned Cornish about such behavior and cautioned him about the consequences.
Zellers is the first prominent Republican to call for the resignation of Cornish, who is also a Republican. Cornish could not be reached for comment Friday, Nov. 10.
"During my tenure as Speaker of the House, in response to secondhand rumors at the State Capitol, I had a private meeting with Rep. Tony Cornish. At that time, I informed Rep. Cornish in the strongest possible terms that sexual harassment of any kind is unacceptable and will not be tolerated at the Minnesota Legislature," Zellers said in a prepared statement. "I also informed him that if I received any complaint we would immediately begin disciplinary proceedings."
Zellers said no other complaints were reported against Cornish during the rest of Zeller's term as House speaker, which covered the period from January 2011 to January 2013.
The allegations against Cornish were first made public Thursday evening. Rep. Erin Maye Quade, a Democrat from Apple Valley, told KMSP-TV that Cornish had sent her inappropriate text messages, and an anonymous lobbyist described more serious allegations, according to reports by the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio.
Cornish, who lives in Vernon Center, said Thursday the texts were meant to be a joke and denied the majority of the lobbyist's allegations. Later that evening, current House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown, called the allegations "extremely troubling." He suspended Cornish's chairmanship of the House Public Safety Committee and opened a human resources complaint.
Zellers suggested an external investigation by the Minnesota House and urged Cornish to resign.
"I understand that it is difficult for victims of sexual harassment to speak out, especially against elected officials in positions of power. I commend them for speaking out about their difficult experiences at the State Capitol, and I believe their stories," Zellers said in the statement. "I believe (Cornish) should resign from office and issue an apology to his victims and constituents he was sent to St. Paul to represent."
The day before the accusations against Cornish were made public, Sen. Dan Schoen, a Democrat from St. Paul Park, was accused of sexual harassment.
Several political leaders called on Schoen to resign, but Schoen has said he did nothing wrong. He has hired a lawyer and is preparing to fight, according to officials.
Forum News Service contributed to this report.