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Veteran Minnesota lawmaker ends campaign, denies daughter's allegation of inappropriate touching

Minnesota state Rep. Jim Knoblach of St. Cloud co-chairs the first meeting in the new Senate Office Building Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Forum News Service

St. PAUL—Minnesota state Rep. Jim Knoblach, an influential St. Cloud Republican in his eighth term, has ended his re-election campaign in connection to allegations his daughter made that he inappropriately touched her over a period of time.

Knoblach, who is not resigning his actual House seat, denied the allegations in a statement Friday, calling them "extremely hurtful and untrue."

He has not been charged with any crime, and authorities appear to have declined to file charges.

Knoblach's daughter, now grown, made the allegations in a 2016 Facebook post that was taken down shortly after being posted, said Knoblach's attorney, Susan Gaertner.

The allegations involved "inappropriate touching, hugging, kissing, none of which involves any private parts or anything that involves criminal sexual conduct," said Gaertner, a former Ramsey County attorney.

The Sherburne County Sheriff's Office investigated the allegation from January through May of 2017, Gaertner said. Knoblach himself was not questioned personally, as Gaertner said she communicated on his behalf.

Gaertner furnished a letter from the Assistant Sherburne County Attorney Dawn Nyhus, dated March, that reads, in part, "we are declining to file charges. There is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that James Michael Knoblach committed a crime."

Knoblach said he decided to cease his re-election campaign Friday as Minnesota Public Radio News was preparing to broadcast a story on the allegations.

MPR reported that Knoblach's daughter, Laura, now 23, went on the record with the radio station "after exhausting other means to hold her father accountable." She "supplied extensive documentation about her attempts to get help," MPR reported. She told MPR that Knoblach inappropriately touched her for most of her life, "with her first memories starting when she was 9 years old."

Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Laura Knoblach for comment Friday.

Election ramifications

Knoblach, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, is facing re-election, along with every House member. He's being challenged by Democrat Dan Wolgamott.

Early absentee voting began Friday, and state law doesn't allow Knoblach's name to be removed from the ballot at this point. There are a few ways an election can be cancelled, but none appear to apply here. It wasn't immediately clear Friday what would happen if Knoblach were to win the election.

Republicans currently hold a 77-57 majority in the House.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, issued the following statement Friday: "I want to thank Chair Knoblach for his many years of service to the state of Minnesota. I support his decision to suspend his re-election campaign to focus on his family."

Knoblach described his daughter as estranged from the family and said fighting the allegations "would entail subjecting my wife, son, and elderly parents, as well as my daughter, to six weeks of extreme stress and scrutiny. I'm also not willing to spend six weeks fighting with my daughter in the media. As a result, I feel I have no choice but to effectively end my campaign today so that I can work towards healing my family."

Knoblach's full statement

Here's Knoblach's entire statement:

"Our daughter has been estranged from our family for some time. In late 2016 she made some extremely hurtful and untrue accusations on a Facebook post, which was briefly put up and then taken down. These accusations were fully investigated by Sherburne County, dismissed, and the case closed in April 2017.

"I appreciate my wife, my son, our parents and the rest of my family standing with me in the face of these accusations. Last week I learned my daughter had contacted Minnesota Public Radio seven months ago, and that MPR was preparing a story on her allegations. I love my children more than anything, and would never do anything to hurt them. Her allegations are false. I and other family members have made repeated attempts to reconcile with her in recent years, but she has refused.

"I could fight on for another six weeks to defend my reputation while running for re-election. But this would entail subjecting my wife, son, and elderly parents, as well as my daughter, to six weeks of extreme stress and scrutiny. I'm also not willing to spend six weeks fighting with my daughter in the media. As a result, I feel I have no choice but to effectively end my campaign today so that I can work towards healing my family.

"It has been the greatest honor of my life to represent my hometown in the Legislature. I want to thank my many supporters for their years of support. I have done the best I can to represent my district in Saint Paul, and will continue to contribute in other ways. I will now complete the term voters elected me to serve and help constituents who contact me every day.

"As indescribably hurtful as these circumstances are, my wife and I love our daughter, and we look forward to the day when we can somehow again be a happy family."

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