State Rep. Jim Knoblach, a longtime Republican lawmaker from St. Cloud, dropped his re-election bid on Friday after MPR News approached him about allegations by his daughter that for years he had inappropriately touched her.
Knoblach, in a statement, denied the account by his daughter, Laura.
“Her allegations are false,” the statement said. “I and other family members have made repeated attempts to reconcile with her in recent years, but she has refused.”
The statement continued: “I could fight on for another six weeks to defend my reputation while running for re-election. But this would entail subjecting my wife, son, and elderly parents, as well as my daughter, to six weeks of extreme stress and scrutiny. I’m also not willing to spend six weeks fighting with my daughter in the media. As a result, I feel I have no choice but to effectively end my campaign today so that I can work toward healing my family.”
Laura Knoblach aired the allegation in a Facebook post in late 2016 that was later taken down.
More recently, she told MPR News that her father touched her inappropriately for a number of years, with her first memories of it starting at the age of 9.
Among her allegations, she described her father coming into her bed at night.
“He would put his arm around me and not let me get up or get away and he would lick my neck or bite my ear,” she said in an interview with MPR News. Laura Knoblach did not immediately respond to a Facebook message from the Star Tribune.
The story details Laura Knoblach’s repeated efforts to seek help from friends, family and authority figures at her school and church.
Knoblach is chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee.
The Democratic candidate for the seat is Dan Wolgamott, a St. Cloud real estate agent. The district, which includes St. Cloud State University, has swung between the two parties in several recent elections.
Knoblach, first elected to the House in 1994, stepped down in 2006 to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress.
He reclaimed the seat in 2014 by narrowly defeating a Democratic lawmaker.
His name will remain on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election because it’s too late to remove it, said Secretary of State spokesman Ben Petok. Early voting started Friday. Were Knoblach to still win the election, he could immediately resign or refuse to be sworn in, after which a special election would be called.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, acknowledged Knoblach’s decision in a statement: “I want to thank Chair Knoblach for his many years of service to the state of Minnesota. I support his decision to suspend his re-election campaign to focus on his family.”
The Star Tribune spoke to Laura Knoblach not long after she posted on Facebook about the alleged abuse.
At the time, she said an investigation was under way and declined to speak further about it. Subsequent attempts to contact her were unsuccessful.
Knoblach also referred to an investigation in his statement. “These accusations were fully investigated by Sherburne County, dismissed, and the case closed in April 2017,” he said Friday.
Knoblach’s attorney, Susan Gaertner, forwarded a letter sent from the Sherburne County attorney to the Sherburne County sheriff which reads in part, “Our office has reviewed the above referenced matter and we are declining to file charges. There is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that James Michael Knoblach committed a crime.”
Through his attorney, Knoblach declined to be interviewed.
The Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Jim Knoblach did not agree to be interviewed by detectives during the investigation, Gaertner confirmed Friday.
“He retained counsel, as would be routine for someone accused of something of this nature. I represented him and communicated with law enforcement and communicated on his behalf,” she said.
“A thorough investigation was conducted and no charges were filed,” she said.
Gaertner said the current environment, in which dozens of powerful men have been publicly accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault, compelled Knoblach to step aside for the good of his family, including his daughter.
“It’s all but impossible in this environment to defend yourself against allegations of this nature — even after an investigation is completed and no charges were brought,” Gaertner said. “To defend himself against what his daughter is saying, he would have to be out in the public discrediting his own daughter, and he’s not willing to do that.”
Star Tribune staff writer Kelly Smith contributed to this report.