Capitol harassment victims need space, control

Accusations at the State Capitol

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Women who've endured sexual harassment in the workplace need to have control over when to report it and whether to go public with it, says Rep. Erin Murphy.

Rep. Murphy, a former House Majority Leader and current DFL gubernatorial candidate, said that two women at the center of the ongoing Capitol harassment scandal came to her with their stories in 2015, but decided to keep it out of the public eye until now.

"They should drive that decision. No one should do that for them," Rep. Murphy explained. "It’s another injury, that’s not right. I stood with Lindsey and Erin and other people that are coming forward in allowing them to drive that decision for themselves."

House candidate Lindsey Port of Burnsville and Rep. Erin Maye Quade of Apple Valley this week told the online magazine MinnPost that they'd received unwanted harassment from then-Rep. Danny Schoen in 2015.

Within hours of the story being published Wednesday night Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate DFL leaders and the DFL party chair had all called upon Schoen to resign from the Senate. Schoen has denied the accusations, and hadn't resigned as of Friday evening.

Port said that Schoen commented about her posterior at a DNC national event in Minneapolis in August of 2015. She said Schoen grabbed her from behind while she was standing in line to meet Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who was one of the presidential candidates in town for the event.

"When Lindsey came to talk to me I had two jobs," Rep. Murphy explained.

"She asked me to report the incident to our executive director and the caucus leader, and I did that. My second priority was to make sure I stood with her as a friend and as an ally as she made a decision about when, and if, she was going to make this story public."

Rep. Paul Thissen, who was House Minority Leader at the time, received the complaint and immediately set up a meeting with Schoen.

"I explained the allegations that had been reported to House leadership staff. I made it clear that such conduct was unacceptable for a member of the House and a member of the DFL Caucus. I emphasized that such behavior must stop," Thissen told KARE.

"No further incidents were communicated or reported to me or to House leadership staff. I also considered it important to respect the privacy of the individual who reported the harassment."

Thissen, who is also a DFL candidate for governor,  said that he didn't go public with Lindsey Port's complaint to protect her right to privacy. Thissen this week called for all future complaints of harassment to automatically be referred to the ethics committee.

Maye Quade

Later that same year Maye Quade, at the time a candidate for House and a member of Congressman Keith Ellison's staff, was commenting on social media about the protests at the Fourth Precinct in the wake of the officer-involved shooting of Jamar Clark.

Maye Quade told MinnPost that Schoen started texting her, asking her to consider the perspective of the officers guarding the police station. Maye Quade said she then received a series of texts from Schoen asking her to come to his house in the suburb of St. Paul Park.

She said one of the messages was apparently sent to her by mistake, intended for someone else, and read "Working on her pretty hard, but I almost got her."

Maye Quade eventually relayed the story to Rep. Murphy, someone she had known for years. Murphy. She asked Murphy not to report it and the time, and Murphy honored that request.

"I sure appreciate due process, but I believe Erin Maye Quade and I believe Lindsey Port," Murphy remarked. "And coming forward and telling that story comes with a real price for the individuals that do, and I think it’s important that we listen to them."

Port made a similar plea in a statement to the media, writing, "Most importantly, let's make space for other women to share their own stories. Listen to women. Believe women.”

Cornish complaints

Maye Quade eventually won a seat in the Minnesota House, and reported Thursday that she has been harassed since coming to the State Capitol.

"I am not alone in experiencing harassment at the workplace, and I am not alone in experiencing harassment at the Capitol," Rep. Maye Quade wrote in a release to the media.

"As a candidate, I experienced it with Sen. Schoen, as a legislator, I’ve experienced it by multiple members of the majority and reported it."

Maye Quade cited a May 1 text exchange with Rep. Tony Cornish, a Vernon Center Republican who chairs the powerful House Public Safety Committee.

Cornish wrote, "I got an anonymous text saying I got busted for staring at you."

Maye Quade texted back, "Oh yeah. Ha. Who busted you."

Cornish responded, "Cell number, no name. Got busted looking. Ha. ha. Must be a guy."

Maye Quade replied, "Oh totally. That why I waved."

Cornish responded, "I told him it was your fault, of course. Looked too damned good. Ha."

Then he added,"I  must be more gentlemanly when I run for governor."

About 16 minutes later Maye Quade wrote back, " You can always start now!"

That incident and other comments on the House floor by other lawmakers about Maye Quade's appearance, prompted Rep. Melissa Hortman, the DFL Minority Leader, to complain to House Speaker Kurt Daudt.

In a letter to Daudt she asked him to instruct members to cut it out, but on Thursday Daudt said he didn't know the specifics of the complaints until now.

Cornish has said series of text messages with Maye Quade was one of several light-hearted exchanges between the two. And some Republicans have claimed it was a collegial conversation.

But Murphy argued it should always be up to harassment victims to decide how they feel about comments they've received.

"When we question and grill and scrutinize them as to whether or not they’re telling the truth we  make it harder for women, people to come forward."

And even more serious allegation against Cornish surfaced Thursday, when a female lobbyist told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Cornish frequently texted her for years requesting a sexual relationship, and at one point cornered her in his office.

Cornish conceded he has texted the lobbyist before, but he denied any attempt to physically impede her from leaving his office.

The lobbyist told KARE she isn't ready to be identified publicly at this point, but she has hired an attorney to guide her through the process.

In response to the allegations from the lobbyist, Rep. Daudt ordered a formal Human Resources investigation and temporarily stripped Cornish of the Public Safety Committee chairmanship.

"The allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Tony Cornish are extremely troubling," Daudt wrote in a statement to the media.

"I have shared the reports with the House Director of Human Resources as prescribed by our Policy against Discrimination and Harassment. In addition, 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."

© 2017 KARE-TV


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