Accused lawmaker was warned about sex harassment, former House speaker says

A House colleague and a lobbyist have accused Cornish of sex harassment.

A former Speaker of the Minnesota House says he told Rep. Tony Cornish "in the strongest possible terms" that sexual harassment would not be tolerated in the state legislature. 

Kurt Zellers released a statement Friday saying that years ago he pulled Cornish aside in response to rumors and told him "that if I received any complaint we would immediately begin disciplinary proceedings." 

Zellers, like Cornish, is a Republican. He served in the House from 2003 until 2014 and was speaker during the 2011-12 session.

Cornish was accused of sexual harassment this week by one of his DFL colleagues in the House and by a lobbyist. He has denied the lobbyist's allegation and said the texts that offended Rep. Erin Maye Quade were meant as a joke. 

In his statement Zellers says he believes the women who have accused Cornish and thinks the eight-term legislator should resign from the House. 

For his part, Cornish, who is from Vernon Center in south central Minnesota, tells MPR News he never got a talking-to about harassment from Zellers or any other House leaders. 

At least not until this week. 

After the allegations surfaced, House Speaker Kurt Daudt suspended Cornish from his role as chair of the public safety committee. Daudt also referred the complaints about Cornish to the House human resources department for investigation. 

Other sexual harassment complaints at the Capitol

Maye Quade, a first-term Representative from Apple Valley, is also one of the women who accused DFL state Sen. Dan Schoen of sexual harassment this week and said she has reported harassment by multiple Republican lawmakers, as well.

Schoen denies wrongdoing and has resisted widespread calls for his resignation.

On Friday Maye Quade and others put forth a plan for the Legislature to create a task force to develop recommendations "to address the culture of the legislature and campaigns and create lasting change in our workplace."

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