Two women, including fellow state lawmaker, accuse Rep. Tony Cornish of sexual harassment
By Jennifer Bjorhus and J. Patrick Coolican
Nov. 10, 2017
Allegations of sexual harassment at the State Capitol widened Thursday as two women came forward with stories about another state lawmaker, this time the powerful head of the House Public Safety Commitee, Rep. Tony Cornish.
Cornish, a Republican from Blue Earth County, is an eight-term lawmaker who chairs the House Public Safety Committee. He is known at the Capitol for his strong support for law enforcement and the rights of gun owners. He did not return multiple phone calls from the Star Tribune seeking comment about allegations from a fellow legislator, and a lobbyist.
Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, told the Star Tribune about an uncomfortable episode involving Cornish. She provided a text message from Cornish in which he wrote that he got busted for staring at you on the House floor ... Haha. I told him it was your fault, of course. Look too damned good. Ha. I must be more gentlemanly when I run for governor.
Maye Quade said she complained about the exchange to DFL leadership, which took the complaint to the speaker of the House, according to House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he never received any specific complaint, and that Hortman should have gone to House human resources.
Maye Quade said Daudts response typifies why women dont want to come forward. This is why, she said. Maye Quade, who also said she was sexually harassed by fellow DFL lawmaker Sen. Dan Schoen, said she has been the subject of crude comments from other House Republican lawmakers about her appearance.
Maye Quade is not the only woman to allege mistreatment by Cornish.
Another woman at the Capitol, a veteran DFL lobbyist who asked not to be named, said that Cornish has relentlessly pursued her. She estimates the lawmaker has propositioned her for sex at least 40 times in the past decade unwanted advances that she said she always rejected. He would frequently text her during committee meetings with personal messages, she said, such as andthinsp;You look so good ... can you come to my office?andthinsp;
The lobbyist said she never reported Cornishs behavior to anyone at the Capitol, although she did mention it to her employer, a lobbying firm, at the time. She saw no point, she explained, because her understanding was that an ethics complaint would go to a bipartisan panel of four people two Democrats and two Republicans and would likely not result in anything helpful. And it would kill her career, she said.
He holds the most important seat for anyone who does criminal justice work, she explained. For me to get anything done I have to work with this guy.
The unwanted advances, she said, went much further than texts.
The lobbyist related one incident around 2010 when she went to Cornishs office to discuss a bill. When she moved to leave, he asked her not to go, and stood up. Then he asked her to look down.
He said Look down,andthinsp; she said. andthinsp;I have a raging boner. You cant leave.andthinsp;
Dumbstruck, she sat back down. She said he repeated the statement. She deflected, she said, by telling him she was running late for a meeting, and exited.
In a later incident, she said, Cornish pushed her against his office wall and tried to kiss her. She pushed him away and left.
The encounters left her feeling degraded, she said, and she contemplated switching careers.
I think Im very good at what I do, the lobbyist said. The legislature is definitely behind other places like business environments in terms of sexual harassment policies.