Gauthier drops out of Minnesota House race

In a surprise announcement just before noon Wednesday, embattled state Rep. Kerry Gauthier of Duluth vowed to stand for re-election despite widespread calls from the top brass of his DFL party demanding he bow out of the race after the revelation...

Associated press Minnesota Rep. Kerry Gauthier of Duluth takes part in a 2001 House committee hearing about synthetic marijuana sales. Gauthier said Wednesday he's not running for re-election, after DFL party leaders urged him to drop out as they battle to regain control of the state Legislature.

In a surprise announcement just before noon Wednesday, embattled state Rep. Kerry Gauthier of Duluth vowed to stand for re-election despite widespread calls from the top brass of his DFL party demanding he bow out of the race after the revelation he'd exchanged oral sex with a 17-year-old at an Interstate 35 rest stop last month.

Less than five hours later, Gauthier changed his mind, saying he wouldn't run after all.

"He said there's been too much fallout, that it's been too hard on him psychologically," NewsCenter News Manager Barbara Reyelts said of a phone call to the television station from Gauthier. "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 made both announcements only to NewsCenter, which is the News Tribune's television news partner. He did not return calls from the News Tribune.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he spoke to Gauthier after the first announcement 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 the day numerous DFL party leaders blasted Gauthier's decision to stay in the race, including Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin.

The strongest words came from fellow Duluth Rep. Tom Huntley, who called 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 told the News Tribune. "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." Party Chairman Martin intimated as much.

"He will receive no assistance from the state DFL Party, and we are strongly encouraging the local party leaders to rescind his endorsement," Martin said, calling Gauthier's conduct "inexcusable" and saying, "He has lost the public trust."

After Gauthier's withdrawal, Martin issued a more conciliatory statement.

"We are grateful that Rep. Gauthier has chosen to do the right thing and end his bid for re-election," Martin said. "This has been a very difficult ordeal for our party, our legislative leaders and certainly for Rep. Gauthier and others involved in this tragic situation. On behalf of the DFL Party, we thank Rep. Gauthier for his service in the Legislature and we wish him the best on his path to recovery."


'Made a mistake'

In his NewsCenter interview, Gauthier said he decided to run for re-election despite the encounter with the 17-year-old boy he met over Craigslist because "he still feels he's the best person to represent his district," Reyelts said.

In a statement Gauthier released to the media after 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 over the age of consent in Minnesota.

Gauthier said he overdosed on muscle relaxants after the rest-stop incident was made public, resulting in a four-day hospitalization. He told the Associated Press that it was a suicide attempt.

"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 Alan 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 on 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."


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 Gauthier, 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."

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 majority 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, however, told NewsCenter's Reyelts that he probably wouldn'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.

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 such as Rush Limbaugh.

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a statement tying Democratic congressional nominee Rick Nolan to Gauthier, because each had endorsed 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.

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


Still on ballot

Despite Gauthier's withdrawal from the race, under state law his name will still appear on the ballot along with Republican Party nominee Travis Silvers.

"It's on again, off again, isn't it?" Silvers said. "I think Kerry did the right thing."

Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle and Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Erik Simonson have said they will conduct write-in campaigns for the 7B seat. Fosle agreed that Gauthier did the right thing by not seeking re-election.

"It's the best thing for the DFL and, most of all, the constituents," he said.

But he was curt about the idea of the DFL possibly holding an endorsement convention for a write-in candidate.

"I won't show up," he said. "I'm running for the citizens and not a special interest group."

Simonson welcomed the news of Gauthier dropping out.


"Now we can move forward," he said, adding he'd like to see the DFL rally behind one candidate through an endorsing convention. "I would encourage it."

Gauthier still has the endorsement of the local DFL Party, according to John Schwetman, the chairman of the Senate District 7 DFL, an endorsement that was given before the rest stop allegations became public.

Schwetman said Wednesday afternoon the local DFL board isn't taking steps to withdraw or revoke the endorsement, but may meet to discuss the issue.

"It's possible," he said. "But that doesn't mean that it's likely."

Voters react

Gauthier's initial announcement on Wednesday that he would stay in the race garnered reactions of disbelief and doubt from constituents interviewed by the News Tribune.

"It'll never fly," resident Gary Christner said of Gauthier's chances of regaining the electorate that voted him in with nearly 75 percent of the vote in 2010.

"He's not going to be effective in the Legislature," he said, adding of the sexual encounter: "It's the age difference that creeps me out."

Glorian Nelson of Park Point said she voted for Gauthier in 2010 after meeting him as he knocked on doors in the neighborhood.

"He seemed like a good person," she said of that visit. "But he showed poor judgment. I don't think he should represent us."

Park Point neighbor John Sedgwick said he always votes for the Democratic ticket but wouldn't vote for Gauthier.

"He should drop out of the race," he said.

Even before reconsidering his decision to run, Gauthier acknowledged that he had let people down.

"I will say I'm embarrassed and I made a mistake," he told Reyelts in the earlier interview. "There's nothing more I can say about that."

News Tribune staff writer Mike Creger contributed to this report.

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