State Democratic leaders are increasing pressure on a DFL legislator not to seek re-election after authorities said he had a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old boy at a rest stop in Duluth.

"I am deeply disappointed with Rep. Kerry Gauthier's conduct," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. "The conduct was wrong and ... I believe he should withdraw from the race for re-election."

Last week, the St. Louis County attorney's office decided not to pursue charges against Gauthier, a first-term legislator from Duluth, for allegedly engaging in oral sex with a 17-year-old boy in a wooded area behind the rest stop. The county attorney opted not to press charges because the age of consent is 16.

Gauthier and the teen, who is not named because he is a minor, told authorities the sex was consensual and no money changed hands during the incident on July 22. According to authorities, the teenager had responded to Gauthier's ad on Craigslist seeking a romantic encounter with "no stings attached." The teen told Gauthier he was 18, both the youth and the legislator told police.

Soon after Thissen's comments on Monday, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin called the situation "deeply unfortunate" and asked Gauthier to drop out of the race.

"His actions are inexcusable," Martin said. "The people of Duluth deserve a representative who will stand up for their interests, without the sort of distractions that Rep. Gauthier has caused through exceedingly poor judgment."

Martin and Thissen stopped short of calling for Gauthier's immediate resignation. House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, demanded Gauthier step down immediately.

Gauthier, 56, was admitted to a local hospital for shortness of breath last Wednesday as results of the investigation became public. He was released over the weekend, but has not responded to interview requests. No more details were available about the extent or severity of his illness.

Even if Gauthier were to drop out, his name must remain on the November general election ballot. There is no provision in state law for removing a legislative candidate's name from the ballot after the primary, said Patricia Turgeon, spokeswoman for the Minnesota secretary of state's office.

Another DFL candidate would have to wage a write-in campaign, she said. If Gauthier were to announce he was not running again but still became the largest vote-getter, he would have to resign and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton would have to call a special election to fill the seat.

Duluth City Council Member Jay Fosle already announced he would wage a write-in campaign for Gauthier's seat. Gauthier was already facing a challenge from Republican Travis Silvers, but the seat has been a DFL stronghold. Gauthier won 73 percent of the vote in his last election.

Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044