Listen MPR's Dan Kraker discusses state Rep. Kerry Gauthier's campaign reversal
Listen Gauthier says he won't run
A once-safe DFL seat in the Minnesota House is now a wide open contest following a roller-coaster series of events Wednesday.
Embattled DFL state Rep. Kerry Gauthier emerged from seclusion yesterday morning to announce he would seek re-election. But after a day of pounding criticism, Gauthier changed his mind and withdrew from the race.
The one-term lawmaker admitted to having a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old boy at a highway rest stop last month.
Gauthier's silence ended Wednesday morning, when he gave an exclusive interview to Northland's News Center, a Duluth TV station.
"I'm a better person than the incident would portray me, and I will demonstrate this in my future behavior," Gauthier said. "I can change my behavior, but I cannot change the fact that I am a gay man, and have known this since my college days. I simply must act like a mature gay man would act."
According to the television station, Gauthier also said the problem stems from his past unwillingness to accept himself as a gay man.
Duluth police investigated the incident at the rest stop, but did not arrest Gauthier. The St. Louis County Attorney declined to press charges. The investigation found that the sex was consensual and no money changed hands. By law, Minnesota's age of consent is 16.
Gauthier did not return calls to MPR News for this story, he told the Northland's News Center the incident was an "obvious tragic embarrassment."
"I'm sorry for the hurt that I have caused my family, friends and constituents," he said.
A chorus of condemnation erupted after news broke of Gauthier's initial decision to remain in the race. Minnesota GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge called the announcement "shocking and appalling." Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he has known Gauthier for more than 20 years, called it a "terrible decision."
"I think it's just something that goes beyond the morals of Minnesotans to solicit on Craigslist sex with a minor, and do it in a publicly owned area, as a state legislator, and come back to the parking lot with his clothes disheveled."
Other Democratic leaders in Duluth and St. Paul continued the call for Gauthier to drop out. Then, just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, Gauthier did just that, telling a different TV news operation he had changed his mind.
DFL leaders now say their challenge is to rally behind a new candidate. John Schwetman is the DFL chairman of Senate District 7, which includes Gauthier's staunchly blue district. Schwetman hopes to call a convention in the next couple weeks to endorse a new candidate, but says the Gauthier affair could hurt the party's chances.
"This is a safe DFL district under normal circumstances, but if we have multiple candidates on the ballot, that will obviously dilute the voting strength," Schwetman said.
There are already multiple candidates in this race. Two candidates had launched write-in campaigns before yesterday: Duluth City Councilman Jay Fosle, and assistant city fire chief Erik Simonson. Simonson said his highest priority is to try to win the DFL's support. Fosle says he is now running as an independent. Also, there is now a GOP candidate seeking the seat.
The Republican newcomer to state politics, Travis Silvers, said Gauthier's incident has sparked interest in his campaign.
"Things that people do have consequences, and as for me, I'll do my best, I'll be out knocking doors, letting people get to know who I am, and maybe consider me," Silvers said.
DFL leaders meanwhile lamented that the party will now have to spend money to try to keep a seat that is normally a slam dunk.
But Gauthier's decision to withdraw does offer some comfort to opponents of a proposed state constitutional amendment, one that would ban same sex marriage. Duluth state Sen. Roger Reinart had been worried that supporters of the ban could use Gauthier's case as ammunition.
"I think it would have been better if it hadn't happened at all, but certainly this allows us to put the attention back on the actual issue of the marriage amendment, and not on an individual and a poor decision that this person made," Reinart said.
What is clear is that a race that would otherwise normally be an easy win for the DFL, now appears to be anything but.