Duluth Rep. Kerry Gauthier, the state lawmaker caught having a sexual encounter at a rest stop with a 17-year-old boy, began Wednesday saying he will still seek re-election -- but by Wednesday afternoon, he had changed his mind.
At about 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, FOX 21 News in Duluth confirmed to FOX 9 News that Gauthier called them to say, "I have reconsidered and I am withdrawing from the race. That's my statement."
Shortly thereafter, DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen confirmed that Gauthier called him to let him know he had reconsidered and would step aside.
"I fully support his decision," Thissen said.
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin released the following statement regarding Gauthier's decision.
""We are grateful that Rep. Gauthier has chosen to do the right thing and end his bid for re-election. This has been a very difficult ordeal for our party, our legislative leaders and certainly for Rep. Gauthier and others involved in this tragic situation. On behalf of the DFL Party, we thank Rep. Gauthier for his service in the legislature and we wish him the best on his path to recovery."
Republicans want Gauthier to step down immediately instead of finishing the remainder of his term.
For days, the DFL Party had urged Gauthier to drop his campaign. In fact, his party vowed to cut off assistance to Gauthier's campaign and called for local party leaders to rescind his endorsement in response to his initial statement that he would continue in the race.
No charges were filed in the July incident at the Thompson Hill rest stop off Interstate 35. According to the police report, the Craigslist-arranged meeting for sex was consensual, and the boy told Gauthier he was 18. The age of consent in Minnesota is 16.
On Wednesday morning, the 56-year-old first-term representative told Northland's NewsCenter he still thinks he's the best person to represent his district.
"There are those particularly in St. Paul that have publicly asked for my resignation or withdrawal from the race for the house seat 7B," Gauthier told KJBR's Barbara Reyelts. "In consultation with my friends and my family, I have decided to let the people in Central and West Duluth make that decision rather than the political power base in St. Paul."
Gov. Mark Dayton called Gauthier's actions "unacceptable" and his decision to stay in the race "destructive to him and his party."
"He has the right to stay in office, but it's very bad judgment on his part," Dayton said of Gauthier's initial decision to stay in the race. "I'm not saying he should resign, but he should not seek re-election. I feel he's not fit to continue to serve beyond his term."
Dayton has not yet been reached for comment on the FOX 21 News report that Gauthier now plans to step aside.
Duluth firefighter Erik Simonson and city council member Jay Fosle have announced plans to run as write-in candidates for Gauthier's seat.