Giving oxygen to a two-week firestorm surrounding Rep. Rick Nolan, DFL-Minn., a group of a dozen or more activists marched into his downtown Duluth legislative office on Thursday, calling for the congressman to both resign and drop off the Lori Swanson gubernatorial ticket as its lieutenant governor candidate.
"I feel like he needs to be held accountable," said local community organizer Ashley Northey.
Northey and the others said they were unmoved by Nolan's attempts to address a scandal first reported by MinnPost in July. The report detailed how Nolan's 2016 8th Congressional District re-election campaign rehired a top Nolan aide who had previously left the congressman's Washington, D.C. office amid credible complaints of sexual harassment by multiple female staffers.
Those upset with Nolan say the rehiring of the longtime aide showed a disregard for the women in the legislative office. Northey is associated with Take Action Minnesota, a progressive group which has previously called for Nolan to resign.
"It is expected that ... Take Action would use every opportunity to take a potshot at my candidacy," Nolan said in a statement. "Having said that, I repeat what I said two weeks ago: Sexual harassment is not and never has been condoned or tolerated in my Congressional or campaign offices."
Nolan told the News Tribune over the weekend he would neither resign nor leave the Swanson campaign.
"I haven't done anything wrong," Nolan said, adding he believed the controversy was being fueled, in part, by Democratic-Farmer-Labor political opponents in the governor's race.
"I reject the narrative this is driven by other political campaigns," Northey said.
Northey said she has been "appalled" by Nolan's statements and interviews, which she described as an attempt to "completely nullify" the stories of the women who came forward in the MinnPost story.
The group shouted "we believe survivors" and other slogans while making their way to Nolan's office in the Duluth Technology Village on East Superior Street. The group first congregated at the Building For Women on the corner of First Street and First Avenue East.
Nolan was not in his Duluth office at the time. Protestors made sure to sign in at the guestbook and stayed for roughly 15 minutes.
"The congressman has made his statement," said a Nolan office staffer. "He's not going to resign."
"We are very upset with our congressman," John Doberstein told Nolan staffers while thanking them for the work they do. "We just expect more."
"I want to see a real apology from him," Claire Kirch said. "I think his previous statements have left a lot to be desired."
Some DFL party leaders were present for the action, including Senate District 7 chair Chris Rubesch.
"As party leaders we need to hold each other accountable as much as we hold others across party lines accountable," Rubesch said.
In his latest statement, Nolan said, "Three years ago, when allegations were made and concerns raised about sexual harassment by a male member of my staff, they were immediately investigated and the accused employee was let go."
Nolan announced in February that he would not seek a fourth-straight term in the 8th District. He later joined the Swanson for governor campaign. Nolan's name was noticeably absent from a Swanson television ad released on Thursday, the first such instance of Nolan's name not appearing in one of Swanson's three commercials.