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Gazelka reacts to Schoen sexual harassment allegations

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka commented Friday he didn't think it likely new sexual harassment allegations against more state senators would surface.

Gazelka, a Republican from Fairview Township, was reacting to the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, which came to light Wednesday.

Sexual harassment at the Capitol was something all lawmakers should fight against, regardless of political party, he said.

Such behavior was not commonplace in the Minnesota Senate, Gazelka said, although he gave the caveat he had only been majority leader for about a year.

"I really know my side the best—Senate Republicans—and I just don't think that we're going to find anything there," he said of possible allegations against other members.

Gazelka said he spoke with Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, since the Schoen allegations surfaced, regarding sexual harassment.

Legislators are given training on sexual harassment upon entry into the ranks of the Senate, and periodically thereafter, Gazelka said. The Senate also has a mechanism with which to deal with the specific allegations against Schoen: an ethics committee made up of an equal number of Republicans and DFLers. Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, is the Republican lead on the committee, but Gazelka said he opted not to discuss the Schoen matter with her because the process should start organically from the committee, rather than steered by higher-ups.

If a majority of legislators on the ethics committee vote to take action, then the case goes to the Senate as a whole, where a two-thirds majority can remove a senator, Gazelka said.

Asked whether the Schoen case would eventually come to a vote to eject him, Gazelka said he didn't know.

"I haven't spoken to Sen. Schoen, I don't know what his plans are," he said. "I do have conversations with Sen. Bakk, and both of us want this to be a non-partisan issue, that we stand together if there's ever sexual harassment—either side of the aisle, it's never okay."

Gazelka said he would take care to keep his finger off the scale were the matter to proceed to a full Senate vote to kick out Schoen.

"I respect the fact that if either side of the aisle has an issue, that they can try to deal with it first," he said. "They (Democrats) have asked (Schoen) to resign. If that's not the case, then there are further steps, and that's the ethics committee. I personally cannot, and I would not intervene at that level. I would let the process work. I would be one of 67 senators that would vote."

Although he and Bakk may cross swords at times, the allegations this week at the Capitol put them both in concert with each other, Gazelka said.

"There are different times that you are adversaries," he said. "This is one where we're on the exact same page, standing against sexual harassment."

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