Sen. Dan Schoen filed a resignation letter Wednesday, but his lawyer at an afternoon news conference mounted a combative defense of the DFLer, saying he never sexually harassed anyone intentionally and suggesting that the claims were politically motivated.
Schoen was not present at the news conference at the South St. Paul offices of his attorney, Paul Rogosheske. But the lawyer provided Schoen’s resignation letter.
“It was never ever my intention to make an inappropriate advance on anyone,” Schoen wrote. “Relationships — both social and collegial — can be hard to navigate, and tone is so often lost in written communication. 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 will officially resign on Dec. 15. But he remains defiant over allegations by three women — a fellow DFL lawmaker, a DFL candidate for office and a state Senate employee — that he intentionally sexually harassed them.
“He never meant to sexually harass anybody,” Rogosheske said.
Rogosheske acknowledged that Schoen did send via Snapchat a photograph of male genitalia to the Senate employee, but he said that was a mistake, actually intended for another person with whom Schoen was in an intimate relationship. He denied that Schoen ever grabbed the buttocks of DFL candidate Lindsey Port, as she has alleged.
Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, had said Schoen sent her unsolicited text messages before her election last year that she said she interpreted as an invitation for an encounter at his home. Rogosheske produced text messages between Schoen and Maye Quade that, he said, showed no untoward behavior. But he acknowledged it was not a complete record of texts between them.
Rogosheske said that “these allegations that Maye Quade and Ms. Port brought were taken out of context. They’re wrong.” He also alleged that Port was motivated by support of the state auditor campaign of DFLer Jon Tollefson; Schoen had publicly mulled running for that job. Rogosheske said colleagues and staff at the Capitol warned Schoen that sexual harassment allegations against him would be revealed if he ran for auditor, but he declined to reveal who made those alleged threats.
Port and Maye Quade did not comment on the new allegations from Rogosheske. Blueprint Campaigns, a political firm that Port co-founded and where Tollefson is a board member, released a statement on Port’s behalf.
“Making the decision to come forward about experiencing sexual harassment or abuse is a deeply personal, deeply terrifying decision for any person,” read the statement from program director Meredith Stacey. “To insinuate any ulterior motive only adds to the myriad of ways that victims of sexual harassment and assault are made to stay silent.”
Schoen, a Cottage Grove police officer, has been reassigned to administrative duties. The department said Wednesday it has not received reports of misconduct against him.
Rogosheske said Schoen decided to resign despite maintaining his innocence because staying in the state Senate had become untenable. Schoen’s announcement that he would resign came on Tuesday, the same day that another lawmaker, Republican Rep. Tony Cornish, also said he’d resign in the face of harassment claims.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that he plans to call special elections as soon as possible to replace Schoen and Cornish.
“I think they’re very important first steps,” Dayton said of the resignations. “I think they’re both doing the right thing.”
Dayton said he’d start the process of calling special elections in Schoen’s southeast metro Senate district and Cornish’s Mankato-area House district as soon as he gets their resignation letters in writing. Schoen, from St. Paul Park, and Cornish, from Vernon Center, are both expected to officially resign in the coming days.
Dayton said he hopes to be able to set the elections soon enough that whoever wins them will be able to take office by the time the next legislative session convenes on Feb. 20 of next year. “You want a full complement of legislators in office when the session begins,” he said.
A number of candidates for both seats quickly came forward on Wednesday to announce their plans to run.
The resignations of Schoen and Cornish came after a two-week period where allegations against both of them from multiple women consumed the State Capitol.
He said the discussion mostly centered around going through challenging times while under great public scrutiny. Asked why he called for two Minnesota legislators to resign after accusations of harassment, Dayton said the U.S. Senate has an established ethics process for dealing with such situations while the Legislature does not.
Star Tribune staff writer Erin Golden and the Associated Press contributed to this report.