Ex-Speaker Zellers spoke to Rep. Cornish in response to 'rumors'

- More is coming light one day after startling sexual harassment allegations against two lawmakers rocked the State Capitol.

Thursday, Representative Erin Maye Quade made explosive allegations to Fox 9 that both Senator Dan Schoen, a Democrat, and Representative Tony Cornish, a Republican, have sexually harassed her and others.

Now, the former Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Kurt Zellers is saying he had spoken to Rep. Cornish in the past in response to “second-hand rumors” at the Capitol. In a statement, he told Cornish “sexual harassment of any kind is unacceptable” and said they would begin disciplinary proceedings if a formal complaint was made, but none was ever made. He also called for Cornish’s resignation.

Friday, Rep. Maye Quade put her name on a letter along with Representative Jamie Becker Finn and former House candidate Lindsey Port, calling for change. They addressed it to the Governor, the Lt. Governor, legislative leaders and party chairs.

It reads, "we call you to take action immediately on revelations of sexual misconduct by elected officials in the state Legislature."

"Our current system is failing the people who work in the halls of the Capitol," the letter continues.

They ask for a bi-partisan task force on sexual harassment "to establish a system of reporting" and "improve the culture of our legislative bodies and campaigns.”

Schoen has been asked to resign by all four legislative leaders and the governor and he has stated he has no intention to do so, hiring a lawyer.

As for Cornish, Daudt suspended him from chairing the House Public Safety Committee while House HR will investigate the claims.

University of Minnesota political science chair Larry Jacobs says the funding dispute between Governor and the Legislature could play a role in any possible investigations. 

“We could well see this issue about sexual harassment and the follow-up, the investigations by the legislature become wrapped up in that,” said Jacobs. “Does the Legislature have the funding it needs to properly sexual harassment by its members?”

Full statement from former Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers: 

“During my tenure as Speaker of the House, in response to second-hand rumors at the State Capitol, I had a private meeting with Rep. Tony Cornish.  At that time, I informed Rep. Cornish in the strongest possible terms that sexual harassment of any kind is unacceptable and will not be tolerated at the Minnesota Legislature.  I also informed him that if I received any complaint we would immediately begin disciplinary proceedings. No further incidents regarding Rep. Tony Cornish were reported or communicated to me after this meeting and during the remainder of my term as Speaker of the House.

“I understand that it is difficult for victims of sexual harassment to speak out, especially against elected officials in positions of power.  I commend them for speaking out about their difficult experiences at the State Capitol, and I believe their stories.

“Given the seriousness of the complaints, the Minnesota House should immediately conduct an outside investigation.  Based on current news reports and the serious nature of the complaints voiced about Rep. Cornish, I believe he should resign from office and issue an apology to his victims and constituents he was sent to St. Paul to represent.”

Statement from Chair Carnahan: 

"The Republican Party of Minnesota has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to harassment of any kind. I appreciate the swift action by both the Minnesota House and Senate to follow a human resources process to look into recent allegations. Sexual harassment in any environment is unacceptable." 

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