Harassment allegations against ex-Nolan staffer surface in governor’s race

Updated 4 p.m.

Several liberal groups are calling on U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, to leave the governor's race after reports of sexual harassment allegations about an ex-staffer in his office.

The allegations, reported in MinnPost on Thursday, center around former staffer Jim Swiderski, who several women said grabbed and harassed them in Nolan's office and was allowed to leave in 2015 instead of face disciplinary actions. In 2016, Swiderski was briefly hired back as a contractor on Nolan's re-election bid.

Earlier this year, Nolan announced his retirement from Congress, but in June he joined the last-minute DFL governor ticket with Attorney General Lori Swanson. Swanson is in a three-way primary against state Rep. Erin Murphy and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz on Aug. 14.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

TakeAction Minnesota, which is actively supporting Murphy's campaign for governor, held a press conference Friday calling on Nolan to leave the race.

"He is choosing to do nothing, he chose to do nothing when women came to him in his office. Congressman Nolan is making the wrong choice and he's the wrong choice for Minnesota," Elianne Farhat, program director with TakeAction, said. "It's time for him to step down. State law doesn't allow Nolan to be removed from the ballot at this point in the race, Farhat said, but Swanson can "clearly communicate" the path forward for her ticket.

But Swanson's campaign showed no indications they planned to make changes to their ticket Friday. Responding to the allegations, Swanson defended her running mate and promised her administration would have a "zero tolerance" sexual harassment policy.

"Congressman Nolan has a long, effective, and distinguished track record representing Minnesota and has fought for gender equality throughout his entire career.  As the first female attorney general in Minnesota history who is running to be our state's first female governor, the Swanson-Nolan Administration will work hard to promote opportunities and equality for women," Swanson said in a statement. "Sexual harassment will have no place in the Swanson-Nolan Administration."

In hindsight, Nolan said his campaign committee “should not have retained the individual” as an independent contractor and he apologized to the women who experienced harassment in his office. “In the 1970s, I was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, to ensure equality for women in all spheres of society,” Nolan wrote in his statement. “As a 74 year old male, I am excited to be on the ticket with Lori Swanson, a trailblazer who is a generation younger than me and who will serve Minnesota proud as the first female governor of Minnesota.”

Ruth Stanoch, Swanson's campaign spokesperson, went further, suggesting the women came forward for political reasons.

“MinnPost has stated that central players in its anonymously-sourced story now work for Tim Walz/Erin Murphy.  Two weeks ago, a poll was published showing Swanson-Nolan with a commanding double-digit lead over Walz and Murphy,” Stanoch said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that candidates who are behind in the polls seek to exploit this matter for their political advantage.”

Swanson's opponents, Murphy and Walz, also criticized Nolan for his response to the allegations. “Congressman Rick Nolan enabled and protected a predator while engaging in truly reprehensible behavior himself," Murphy said in a statement. 

Walz said the behavior was an "inexcusable failure of leadership."

"Everyone deserves safety and respect in their workplace," he said. "The leaders within the workplace must ensure that happens."