Report: Rep. Tony Cornish sent harassing texts, showed lobbyist 'raging boner'

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A lobbyist told the Star Tribune Rep. Tony Cornish once pushed her against the wall and tried to kiss her in his Capitol office. David Joles, Star Tribune

The latest domino to fall in a growing harassment scandal at the Minnesota Capitol is named Tony, and loves guns.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, is accused of multiple instances of inappropriate conduct in a Star Tribune story. As was the case with Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, whose pattern of behavior was exposed in a MinnPost story the day before, one target of Cornish's unwanted solicitations was Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, who provided text messages Cornish sent her to the newspaper.

In one, Cornish, 66, and an eight-term member of the House of Representatives, wrote to tell the freshman legislator, 31, that he'd been "busted for staring at [her] on the house floor."

Cornish added: "I told him it was your fault, of course. Looked too damn good." 

The most disturbing allegations against Cornish come from a lobbyist who asked to have her identity protected. The lobbyist says Cornish engaged in a years-long campaign of harassment, soliciting her for sex in text messages -- she rebuffed him -- and once pushing her against a wall in his office and trying to kiss her.

On another occasion, during a meeting in his office, the woman says she was attempting to leave when Cornish stood up and pointed down, saying: "I have a raging boner. You can't leave." This, the lobbyist says, Cornish said twice; she did leave, anyway.

Cornish denied the allegations of in-person behavior -- "nothing in any shape or form," he told the Star Tribune -- but did not refute sending text messages to the same woman.

"I'm an adult," Cornish said. "I'm not a saint."

He's also not a committee chairman. Not anymore: On Thursday night, House Speaker Kurt Daudt announced Cornish was suspended from his position as chair of the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee. In that post, Cornish had been perhaps the single most powerful voice in the Capitol on issues of gun control (he is, uh, against it), crime (privatize prison!), and police reform, where he has thoughtfully advised citizens not to "be a thug."

Cornish's defense of his behavior actually hinged on his outspoken past, as he told the newspaper he had a "big mouth," but is also "straightforward."

Cornish's situation has been referred to nonpartisan human resources staff, according to Daudt's statement.

As for Schoen, the Senate -- controlled by Republicans, and where DFL leaders have already called for his resignation -- could initiate an ethics investigation into his alleged behavior. Schoen, a Cottage Grove Police Department officer -- he has been placed on administrative leave in that job --  has hired an attorney, Paul Rogosheske, to defend him from the accusations.

Rogosheske told the Star Tribune that his client denies the sexual harassment, and said Gov. Mark Dayton's calling for Schoen to resign is "extremely inappropriate." 

Right. That's what's inappropriate.


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