PUBLISHED:01:15 EST, 23 August 2012| UPDATED:01:21 EST, 23 August 2012
- Representative Kerry Gauthier was found engaging in oral sex on July 22
- Found teen on Craigslist after advertising for ‘no strings attached’ sex
- Withdrew bid for re-election Wednesday after calls from both parties to resign
- Charges were dropped because sexual encounter was consensual
- Gauthier said he tried to kill himself last week over the ‘tragic embarrassment’
A disgraced Minnesota politician who had oral sex with a 17-year-old boy in a rest-stop dropped his re-election bid on Wednesday, admitting to what he called an ‘obvious tragic embarrassment.’
Rep. Kerry Gauthier, 56, had declared he would stay in the race in a statement released at 1pm yesterday despite party leaders and Republicans wanting him out, but he U-turned just hours later.
The 56-year-old said he had been going back and forth about running ‘every 20 minutes for a week’ before making the decision, which he claims was not influenced by Democratic leaders pressing him to withdraw.
‘I changed my mind,’ he said. ‘Too much. It’s just too much.’
Gauthier also said that he overdosed on muscle relaxants last week, leading to hospitalisation, in an effort to kill himself.
He’d earlier issued a statement saying he has been in recovery from chemical dependency for 30 years with one relapse.
Gauthier’s decision to withdraw his re-election bid came after Democratic leaders, from Gov. Mark Dayton on down, urged the first-term lawmaker to step aside so the party could field another candidate in a reliably Democratic district.
Democrats need to gain at least six House seats to take control of the chamber, a top goal in November, and the last thing they needed was the possibility of losing what was thought to be a safe seat.
State election officials have said Gauthier can’t be replaced on the ballot, which would mean a write-in campaign for a replacement that would be much more difficult to win.
But Democrats said earlier this week they were looking at legal avenues to replace Gauthier on the ballot if he dropped.
Gauthier’s initial decision to stay in the race, announced in an interview with Northland’s NewsCenter in Duluth, drew widespread condemnation from fellow Democrats.
Dayton said the move would be ‘destructive’ for Gauthier’s reputation, his district, his party and the state.
‘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 public area, publicly owned area, as a state legislator, and come back to the parking lot with his clothes disheveled,’ Dayton told reporters at the Capitol.
‘It’s not about whether it’s a same-sex or a heterosexual act. It would be the same if it were the same circumstances involving a heterosexual individual.’
Police say Gauthier admitted having oral sex with the boy on July 22 after the first-term lawmaker from Duluth advertised on Craigslist for ‘no strings attached’ sex. Police declined to charge him because the boy was older than 16, the legal age of consent, and no money was exchanged.
Earlier, Gauthier apologized for the incident in a statement posted online by the Duluth News Tribune. ‘I am sorry for the hurt this has caused my family, friends and my constituents. I know I made a mistake and am determined to make amends as best I can,’ he said.
Minnesota House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said in a statement to the Duluth News Tribune that he was ‘deeply disappointed’ with Gauthier’s conduct before the politician withdraw his ballot.
‘The conduct was wrong and no one in the DFL House caucus condones the behavior,’ he said. ‘I expect he will address these issues publicly and soon.’
Previously, Republicans lobbied for his resignation.
‘I believe we have given Rep. Gauthier and the Democrat caucus a respectful amount of time to address this situation on their own,’ House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said on Friday.
‘Rep. Gauthier’s actions are not becoming of a member of the House of Representatives, and today I am calling on him to resign from the Legislature.’
Mr Gauthier was treated for shortness of breath following the public investigation of his interactions with a 17-year-old teen he met on Craigslist.
The two met for a rendezvous on July 22 at the Thompson Hill rest stop around 11 p.m.
The Duluth News Tribune reported that a state trooper happened upon the pair after a report of ‘suspicious activity.’
Police reports of the incident reveal that Mr Gauthier put out an ad for an encounter on Craigslist and the 17-year-old responded.
The two walked to a wooded area behind the rest stop pavilion for five minutes, where they engaged in oral sex and touching, police records show.
trooper approached Mr Gauthier on his way back from the encounter.
‘It was at that time I noted his zipper was open and part of his shirt was hanging out. I asked him why his zipper was down and he said he didn’t know,’ the officer wrote in his police report. ‘I told him to zip it up and leave. The male seemed nervous.’
Then, the trooper said, he saw the teen.
‘He stated that he had met an older man at the rest area after corresponding with him in a response to a Craigslist ad,’ the trooper wrote.
The teen told the police that his parents were unaware of his sexual orientation and begged them not to tell his family of the incident.
Both men said the interaction was consensual and there was no money exchanged. The teen also told police that he lied about his age, telling Mr Gauthier he was 18 years old.
‘I think it’s a private matter and I don’t need to talk about it,’ Mr Gauthier said to the Duluth News Tribune following the explosive investigation.
‘It was at that time I noted his zipper was open and part of his shirt was hanging out. I asked him why his zipper was down and he said he didn’t know. I told him to zip it up and leave.’
No charges were pressed against the representative as the age of consent is 16 in Minnesota.
Gauthier told TV station his unwillingness to accept he is gay led him to the sex act in the rest-stop.
He said he is getting counseling. He also said he feels badly for the teen and wouldn’t talk specifically about the incident to protect the boy.
‘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, and not as the incident portrays me,’ the network quoted him as saying.
Gauthier said he won’t attend a Friday special session to vote on a flood relief package after his district was one of the hardest-hit by June flash floods.
Gauthier had pushed hard for state aid until he dropped out of public view when the scandal hit last week.
‘I just think it would be a distraction for the city to get what it needs from the special session,’ Gauthier said.
Sen. Roger Reinert, a Democrat who shares a district with Gauthier, said the withdrawal was ‘absolutely the right decision.’
Reinert said Gauthier’s presence in the campaign threatened to drag down Democratic attempts to win control of the Legislature. He said the scandal reinforced negative stereotypes of gay people, and could hurt an effort to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot banning gay marriage.
Republican leaders called on Gauthier to resign immediately from his legislative seat, but Democrats did not make that request.
Dayton said his signed agreement for the special session with top Republican and Democratic legislative leaders would preclude a House vote on Gauthier’s conduct because it limits the scope of the special session. A spokeswoman for the GOP House caucus had no immediate comment.
Duluth firefighter Erik Simonson launched a bid as a write-in Democratic candidate for Gauthier’s seat Tuesday. Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle also has filed paperwork to run as a write-in candidate. Republican Travis Silvers already is on the ballot.