A Duluth legislator who admitted to police that he had oral sex with a 17-year-old boy at a rest stop has bowed to relentless pressure from DFL leaders and will not seek a second term.
"I am done," state Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, told the Star Tribune late Wednesday. "I just need to take care of myself right now, and I am not really up for that kind of fight."
Gauthier infuriated DFL colleagues earlier in the day when they learned he intended to seek re-election. They had spent days urging Gauthier to bow out of the race in a district that is a longtime DFL stronghold.
Gauthier's decision to resign comes at a feverish time in the Democrats' campaign to win control of the Minnesota House, which Republicans seized as part of a 2010 legislative landslide. Democrats faced a Republican campaign machine that stood to make Gauthier the face of the DFL, someone that one of his own colleagues on Wednesday called a "child molester."
"I fully support his decision, which brings to an end an unfortunate chapter," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
"He made the right decision," said Bob Hume, spokesman for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
Earlier in the day, Dayton took time out of an unrelated news conference for a rare rebuke of a legislator. He said the rest-stop incident "goes beyond the morals of Minnesotans" and said a run for re-election would be "destructive" to Gauthier and the party.
'Unfit to serve'
Dayton, who described himself as a decades-long friend of Gauthier, said of the legislator that "I believe he is unfit to serve beyond this term."
Gauthier, who spoke with Dayton on Sunday, said there was no single person who persuaded him to change his mind in the last 24 hours.
"I have been back and forth on it 100 times," Gauthier said. "I believe I have a lot of people supporting me, and they didn't need the fallout. I have had a rough 10 days." Gauthier was released from the hospital on Sunday after what he called a suicide attempt.
The St. Louis County attorney's office decided last week not to pursue charges against Gauthier for engaging in oral sex with a 17-year-old boy in a wooded area behind a highway rest stop. The county attorney opted not to press charges because the age of consent in Minnesota is 16. Authorities were told that the sex was consensual and that no money changed hands during the July 22 incident.
According to authorities, the teenager had responded to an ad Gauthier had placed on Craigslist, in which he sought a "no strings attached" encounter with another male. The two met behind the busy Duluth rest area and had oral sex for about five minutes before getting spooked that they might get caught. Authorities found Gauthier walking back to the parking area with his zipper down, according to the report.
The teen, whose name is being withheld because he is a minor, told police he lied about his age to Gauthier, claiming to be 18. Gauthier is 56 but told the boy he was 43.
"I am a better person than this incident portrayed me," Gauthier told KBJR-TV. "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."
Gauthier's earlier refusal to bow out momentarily blew a gaping hole in the usually rock-solid solidarity of the Duluth legislative delegation.
"To my view, he's a child molester," said state Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth. "When a 56-years-old person has sex with a 17-year-old person, I think that's inappropriate."
Gauthier waited in silence for three weeks while authorities investigated the case.
As authorities made the report public, Gauthier said he took several muscle relaxants and was taken to a local hospital after being found unconscious.
Gauthier said he has been recovering from chemical addiction for 30 years. He said he relapsed about a year ago and briefly started drinking again. Gauthier said he'd remained sober until last week, when he overdosed on pain pills prescribed for back pain.
"I reverted back to the bad habits of last year," he said.
Before joining the Legislature, Gauthier was a licensed social worker and alcohol and drug counselor. A background check turned up no previous criminal record.
Gauthier, who serves on a House public safety and crime prevention committee, is a first-term legislator who has not had a front-and-center role in the House. He sought money for the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area in Duluth, high-speed rail between Duluth and the Twin Cities and authored a bill calling for a report on sexual violence in the state.
Gauthier's departure from the race still leaves a sizable problem for his party in one of the strongest DFL districts in the state. Gauthier won 73 percent of the vote two years ago.
Thissen said earlier this week that the party will ask the courts to remove Gauthier's name from the ballot and install a new, preferred DFL candidate. Failing that, DFLers must wage a write-in campaign. Already, several DFL candidates have lined up.
"We are grateful that Representative Gauthier has chosen to do the right thing and end his bid for re-election," DFL chair Ken Martin said. "This has been a very difficult ordeal for our party, our legislative leaders and certainly for Representative Gauthier and others involved in this tragic situation."
Gauthier's troubles have been a political dream for Republican political novice Travis Silvers, who ran for the seat two years ago. "I am just running as hard as I can," said Silvers, who added that he has gotten a wave of advice and encouragement from GOP operatives since Gauthier's troubles surfaced. "I have always stood for integrity and the truth and I try to live that way. I am following those principles on my campaign."
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044