Pressured to quit, accused Minnesota lawmaker hires lawyer
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Democratic state senator from Minnesota under pressure from his own party to resign over sexual harassment claims has hired an attorney, suggesting he has no plans to quit and intends to fight any ethics charge.
The allegations against Sen. Dan Schoen, who has served in the Legislature since 2013 and also works as a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Cottage Grove, were first reported by the online news outlet MinnPost . Schoen, 42, is accused of having made unwanted advances toward women and groping a woman from behind.
Lindsey Port was running for a Burnsville-area House seat in 2015 when she met Schoen at a Democratic Party event. Port said Schoen, then a state representative, stepped behind her and commented that he could tell she was good at door-knocking because of her rear end. Soon afterward, he grabbed her behind and repeated the comment.
State Rep. Erin Maye Quade, a freshman Democrat from Apple Valley, said Schoen repeatedly texted her soon after she had announced her campaign for the state House, at first offering campaign advice but later inviting her to his house, assuring her that his children weren’t home. Maye Quade had not met Schoen in person at that point.
Schoen said he doesn’t intend to resign, telling MinnPost that the allegations were taken out of context or, in some cases, that they’re false. He did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment on Thursday.
“Despite this, if any of my actions or words have ever made another person feel uncomfortable or harassed, I deeply regret it and truly apologize,” Schoen said in a statement. Late Thursday, Alyssa Siems Roberson, a spokeswoman for Senate Democrats, said Schoen had hired an attorney.
That move came despite calls from Gov. Mark Dayton and other Democratic leaders for Schoen to step down immediately. Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka threatened to lodge a formal ethics complaint if Schoen doesn’t and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk — Schoen’s superior — suggested the Senate could vote to expel him.
Minnesota’s constitution allows the state House and state Senate to remove members by a two-thirds vote due to “disorderly behavior.” But the Legislature won’t return until February.
Bakk called the allegations “sobering and disturbing” after speaking with him Wednesday.
“I have discussed these allegations with my leadership team and we are united in our call for Sen. Dan Schoen to apologize, step aside, and seek care to address these actions,” Bakk said in a statement.
Ken Martin, chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, repeated the demand, saying the party “stands strongly with the women who bravely shared their difficult stories, and all others who may have been harassed by Sen. Dan Schoen.”
A captain in the Cottage Grove Police Department didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. The city later issued a statement saying Schoen had been put on administrative duties pending a state investigation, though it wasn’t clear that any such investigation was underway. The city said it wasn’t aware of any allegations against Schoen in his role as an officer.
Schoen served two terms in the state House before being elected to the state Senate last year. A resignation would spark a special election in a competitive district — while Schoen is a Democrat, two Republican House members represent the area.
The allegations come amid a tide of sexual harassment and assault allegations against powerful figures in politics, media and entertainment, including movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
State Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, a Democrat who said she believes Maye Quade’s and Port’s allegations, suggested more stories of sexual harassment may come from the Minnesota Capitol.
“Sen. Schoen is not the only person in the Minnesota Legislature to act inappropriately towards women,” Becker-Finn said in a statement. “My hope is that as the truth comes to light, others will feel empowered to step forward so we can meaningfully work towards true change at our State Capitol.”
Follow Kyle Potter on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kpottermn