ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota Democrat who had a rest-stop sexual encounter with a 17-year-old boy dropped his re-election bid Wednesday, hours after declaring he would stay in the race in defiance of party leaders who wanted him out as they fight to regain control of the state Legislature.
Rep. Kerry Gauthier, 56, told The Associated Press the decision was his own after multiple conversations with Democratic leaders pressing him to withdraw. He said he had been going back and forth about running "every 20 minutes for a week."
"I changed my mind," he said. "Too much. It's just too much."
Gauthier also told the AP that an overdose of muscle relaxants he took last week that led to his hospitalization was a suicide attempt. He'd earlier issued a statement saying he has been in recovery from chemical dependency for 30 years with one relapse.
Gauthier's decision came after Democratic leaders, from Gov. Mark Dayton on down, urged the first-term lawmaker to step aside so the party could field another candidate in a reliably Democratic district. Democrats need to gain at least six House seats to take control of the chamber, a top goal in November, and the last thing they needed was the possibility of losing what was thought to be a safe seat.
State election officials have said Gauthier can't be replaced on the ballot, which would mean a write-in campaign for a replacement that would be much more difficult to win. But Democrats said earlier this week they were looking at legal avenues to replace Gauthier on the ballot if he dropped.
Gauthier's initial decision to stay in the race, announced in an interview with Northland's NewsCenter in Duluth, drew widespread condemnation from fellow Democrats.
Dayton said the move would be "destructive" for Gauthier's reputation, his district, his party and the state.
"I think it's just something that goes beyond the morals of Minnesotans – to solicit on Craigslist sex with a minor and do it in a public area, publicly owned area, as a state legislator, and come back to the parking lot with his clothes disheveled," Dayton told reporters at the Capitol. "It's not about whether it's a same-sex or a heterosexual act. It would be the same if it were the same circumstances involving a heterosexual individual."
Police say Gauthier admitted having oral sex with the boy on July 22 after the first-term lawmaker from Duluth advertised on Craigslist for "no strings attached" sex. Police declined to charge him because the boy was older than 16, the legal age of consent, and no money was exchanged.
Earlier, Gauthier apologized for the incident in a statement posted online by the Duluth News Tribune.
"I am sorry for the hurt this has caused my family, friends and my constituents. I know I made a mistake and am determined to make amends as best I can," he said.
Gauthier told the station his unwillingness to accept he is gay led him to the act. He said he is getting counseling. He also said he feels badly for the teen and wouldn't talk specifically about the incident to protect the boy.
"I can change my behavior, but I cannot change the fact that I am a gay man, and have known this since my college days. I simply must act like a mature gay man would act, and not as the incident portrays me," the network quoted him as saying.
Gauthier told the AP he won't attend a Friday special session to vote on a flood relief package after his district was one of the hardest-hit by June flash floods. Gauthier had pushed hard for state aid until he dropped out of public view when the scandal hit last week.
"I just think it would be a distraction for the city to get what it needs from the special session," Gauthier said.
Sen. Roger Reinert, a Democrat who shares a district with Gauthier, said the withdrawal was "absolutely the right decision."
Reinert said Gauthier's presence in the campaign threatened to drag down Democratic attempts to win control of the Legislature. He said the scandal reinforced negative stereotypes of gay people, and could hurt an effort to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot banning gay marriage.
Republican leaders called on Gauthier to resign immediately from his legislative seat, but Democrats did not make that request.
Dayton said his signed agreement for the special session with top Republican and Democratic legislative leaders would preclude a House vote on Gauthier's conduct because it limits the scope of the special session. A spokeswoman for the GOP House caucus had no immediate comment.
Duluth firefighter Erik Simonson launched a bid as a write-in Democratic candidate for Gauthier's seat Tuesday. Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle also has filed paperwork to run as a write-in candidate. Republican Travis Silvers already is on the ballot.Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Related on HuffPost:
David Wu's Alleged Teen Encounter
On July 26, Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/26/david-wu-resigns-sex-scandal_n_909734.html" target="_hplink">announced</a> that he would step down pending the conclusion of ongoing negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. Wu, who had fielded <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/house/should-david-wu-resign.html" target="_hplink">prior criticism</a> for erratic behavior in the run up to his successful 2010 reelection -- he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/23/oregon-newspapers-gop-david-wu-resign_n_827462.html" target="_hplink">emailed staffers</a> a picture showing him wearing a tiger costume -- is currently facing allegations that he engaged in an unwanted sexual encounter with an 18-year-old. Wu has claimed the action was consensual.
Anthony Weiner's Online Romance
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was forced to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/16/anthony-weiner-resigns_n_878229.html" target="_hplink">resign</a> following a lengthy media investigation triggered after he accidentally sent his Twitter followers a picture of himself in his underwear. In the aftermath of the initial tweet, Weiner <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/31/anthony-weiner-twitter_n_869008.html" target="_hplink">claimed</a> that his account had been hacked, but subsequent developments showed that he had contacted a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/16/anthony-weiner-photos-women_n_878211.html" target="_hplink">number of other women</a> online, at times engaging in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/07/anthony-weiner-facebook-chats_n_872783.html" target="_hplink">raunchy conversation</a>.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mistress
Revelations surfaced earlier this year that the former California governor and movie star had <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/18/arnold-schwarzeneggermild_n_863882.html" target="_hplink">fathered a child</a> with his maid during an affair that took place during the 1990s. The child is now in his teens. In a statement to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-me-0517-arnold-20110517,0,312678.story" target="_hplink"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a> in May, Schwarzenegger confessed to the relationship: <blockquote>"After leaving the governor's office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago," Schwarzenegger said Monday night in a statement issued to <em>The Times</em> in response to questions. "I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry."</blockquote>
Eric Massa's Tickling
Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/05/eric-massa-resigning-new_n_487870.html" target="_hplink">resigned</a> in 2010 following <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/03/eric-massa-to-retire-new_n_484288.html" target="_hplink">mounting questions</a> about his conduct that culminated in a House ethics investigation of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/04/eric-massa-house-ethics-p_n_486424.html" target="_hplink">harassment allegations</a> brought forth by a male aide. Shortly after stepping down, Massa <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/09/eric-massa-and-glenn-beck_n_492441.html" target="_hplink">appeared</a> on Glenn Beck's television show and described part of an incident that had triggered the charges. "Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe," he said. "I should have never allowed myself to be as familiar with my staff as I was... I own this misbehavior."
Chris Lee's Craigslist Follies
Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) took part in perhaps the shortest Washington scandal of all time earlier this year, when a <a href="http://gawker.com/#!5755071/married-gop-congressman-sent-sexy-pictures-to-craigslist-babe" target="_hplink">report</a> that he had sent shirtless pictures to a woman he contacted on Craigslist prompted his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/09/chris-lee-resigns-after-c_n_821080.html" target="_hplink">resignation</a> mere hours later.
John Ensign Has Affair With Aide's Wife
In June 2009, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) admitted to having an affair with the wife of a close friend and top aide. In April of this year, he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/21/john-ensign-resigns-reports_n_852285.html" target="_hplink">announced</a> that he was resigning amid a high-profile ethics probe.
Jack Ryan Taking Jeri Ryan To Sex Clubs
According to custody records, 2004 Illinois Republican Senate hopeful Jack Ryan brought his wife -- actress Jeri Ryan -- to sex clubs in various cities with the intent of having sex in public. Ryan was forced to drop out of the race amid the scandal that flared afterward.
Mark Sanford's Secret Trip To Buenos Aires
When Governor Mark Sanford (R- S.C.) went missing for a few days in June 2009 he said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He later confessed he was actually in Argentina visiting his "soul mate." He and his wife have since gotten divorced.
John Edwards And Rielle Hunter
In August 2008, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) finally confessed that he'd had an affair with a former campaign worker after being exposed by the <i>National Enquirer</i>. He met Rielle Hunter, his future campaign videographer, in a bar. Edwards <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/21/john-edwards-admits-pater_n_431006.html" target="_hplink">admitted</a> fathering the child in early 2010.
Eliot Spitzer Client Number 9
In March 2008, a federal investigation revealed that Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D-N.Y.) had habitually patronized a high-priced prostitution agency, spending up to $80,000 on the service.
Larry Craig Toe-Tapping In Airport Bathroom
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested in June 2007 for lewd conduct following an unusual interaction with another man in a bathroom stall at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Craig did not resign immediately, but he did not run again.
Mark Foley Sends Sex Messages To Underage Pages
In September 2006, then chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) was forced to resign amid a scandal involving sexual IM and email conversations with male pages. Foley has since admitted that he is gay.
David Vitter Caught With Prostitutes
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was exposed as a former client of the "DC Madam" prostitution ring in 2007. She even called him during votes. The conservative senator was reportedly also a regular at a New Orleans brothel. Vitter ran for reelection and won in 2010.
Tim Mahoney Paid Off Mistress Staffer
In October 2008, it was reported that Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) had paid a former staffer-turned-mistress $121,000 to keep her from filing a lawsuit. Mahoney later admitted to having more extramarital affairs.
Vito Fosella Bailed Out From DUI By Mistress
In May 2008, Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) was arrested for drunk driving, taken to jail, and bailed out by his mistress. After conflicting stories and poorly constructed lies, he finally admitted that he had been engaged in an affair with the woman and was the father of her 3-year old child.
Don Sherwood Accused Of Choking Mistress
In 2005, opponents of Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) released a D.C. police report from 2004 alleging that Sherwood had choked his mistress. The release of the report forced Sherwood to admit to a five-year affair with the woman.
Gary Condit And Murdered Intern Chandra Levy
After congressional intern Chandra Levy went missing in May 2001, Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) became the center of a scandal that led to his admitting an affair with Levy. In 2009, Levy's murderer was determined to be a man already in prison for other murders.