"We've got to keep in mind the bigger picture and we've got to move forward, we can't just sweep it under the rug and hope it goes away."
You might think these words came from the mouth of someone like, say, Rep. Todd Akin's campaign manager, following the explosion of bipartisan contempt for Mr. Akin. The "it" being swept under the rug would, of course, be Mr. Akin's widely discredited comments on rape.
However, if you thought that, you would be wrong. This sentence comes from a campaign operative in Minnesota, describing how difficult it is to run a campaign after what is, in many states, an act of solicitation at minimum and possibly even an attempt at statutory rape.
Meet Minnesota State Rep. Terry Gauthier.
Mr. Gauthier was, until recently, a minor Democratic State Representative in Minnesota with probably barely any name recognition outside his district. Now, Mr. Gauthier could be fixing to face 15 minutes of infamy.
You see, among his other pastimes, Mr. Gauthier likes to troll the popular website Craigslist, and not for used toasters, or futons, or any of the things most people use Craigslist for. No, Mr. Gauthier likes to troll Craigslist for sex. With young men. Or in this case, a 17-year-old boy.
And Mr. Gauthier apparently gets what he looks for, because he is now alleged to have engaged in oral sex with the unnamed 17-year-old in question, leading many to call his resignation, and even more to call on him to back out of his race for reelection:
Democratic Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, the House Minority Leader, said he was "deeply disappointed" in Gauthier's conduct and wants him to step aside.
"As I shared with Rep. Gauthier, I believe he should withdraw from the race for re-election," Thissen said in a statement released by his office.
Less than an hour later, state Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin echoed Thissen's comments and sought his withdrawal. Both Democrats stopped short of asking Gauthier to leave office before his term ends in January.
"His are actions inexcusable," Martin said. "No one in our party condones what he did, nor will we defend him in this matter."
According to police reports, Gauthier admitted to the act. The New York Daily News has more on what happened:
The first-term legislator wasn’t charged in the alleged July 22 encounter because the legal age of consent in Minnesota is 16 and no money was exchanged, according to the St. Louis County attorney’s office. Police say the two had oral sex behind a rest stop pavilion in Duluth after the teen responded to Gauthier’s Craigslist ad looking for a “no strings attached” sex.
Prior to this mistake, Gauthier's reelection probably would have been a lock. He won 73 percent of the vote the last time he ran. However, there are some things no politician can live down. Granted, Gauthier hasn't been arrested for the act, seeing as 17 is over Minnesota's legal age of consent (16), but his behavior has still turned virtually all of Minnesota's political establishment, left, right and center against him:
Everyone short of your local barista is calling for Gauthier to quit. At MPR, Dan Kraker writes: “Duluth City Councilman Jay Fosle and Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Erik Simonson both say they will run as write-in candidates to replace Gauthier. Gauthier has not said whether he will stay in the race. The head of the state GOP has called on him to resign, while DFL chair Ken Martin has asked Gauthier to not seek a second term. Simonson said that it is tough to launch a campaign amid that backdrop. ‘But we've got to keep in mind the bigger picture and we've got to move forward, we can't just sweep it under the rug and hope it goes away,’ Simonson said.”
Heck, even the Strib editorial board wants him gone: “Solicitation for sex in a public place with a stranger, male or female, nearly 40 years one’s junior is conduct unbecoming an elected official. That’s why House leaders of both parties, GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers called on Gauthier to step down, and DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen urged him not to seek re-election. … One would have to be stone-hearted not to feel some sympathy for him. But this very week is when state assistance for his flood-ravaged district is taking shape at the Capitol. Gauthier’s inability to attend to the public’s business now is telling about his ability to serve effectively in the future. He should step down.”
Whether Gauthier will listen to these critics, or adopt Todd Akin's "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach is not clear yet.