ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota state Rep. Jim Knoblach abruptly ended his re-election campaign Friday amid allegations of inappropriate touching from his adult daughter.
Minnesota Public Radio reported the announcement came hours after the St. Cloud Republican's attorney, Susan Gaertner, denied the allegations in an interview with the station. She said the veteran lawmaker "does not want to drag his family through six weeks of hell."
Knoblach's 23-year-old daughter, Laura, told MPR that he inappropriately touched her for most of her life, with her first memories starting when she was 9 years old and continuing until she was 21. She said the activity included kissing, licking and biting her ears. She said she confided in close friends, family and authority figures at her school and church about his actions for more than a decade.
In a written statement, Jim Knoblach called the allegations "indescribably hurtful" and said he felt he had no other choice but to drop out of the race so he could work toward healing his family.
"I love my children more than anything, and would never do anything to hurt them. Her allegations are false," Knoblach wrote. "I and other family members have made repeated attempts to reconcile with her in recent years, but she has refused."
Knoblach, 60, is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over budget matters. The timing of his exit could make his seat, already a top target for Democrats, difficult for Republicans to hold absent some kind of court intervention or a write-in campaign by a substitute candidate. Dan Wolgamott of St. Cloud is the Democratic candidate.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who's trying to preserve what he can of the GOP's current 21-seat majority in the House, said in a statement that he supported Knoblach's decision.
The St. Cloud Police Department and Sherburne County sheriff's office began an investigation last year but declined to file charges. After exhausting other means to hold her father accountable, Laura Knoblach made the allegations to MPR on the record and supplied extensive documentation about her attempts to get help. The documentation included a letter from the Sherburne County attorney's office saying there was "insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jim Knoblach had committed a crime."
Laura Knoblach told MPR she first remembers her father coming into her room after she'd gone to bed. She said he climbed in and laid down behind her.
"He would put his arm around me and not let me get up or get away and he would lick my neck or bite my ear," she told the station.
These visits to her room, or similar kissing across her arms and neck and biting her ears while they watched movies on the couch, happened so often throughout her childhood and teenage years it became a defining part of their relationship, she said.
Other routine behaviors, she said, including more than 30 instances where her father approached her from behind and pressed his body against hers in the kitchen, pinning her against the refrigerator or dishwasher and using his weight and strength to keep her from getting away.
Jim Knoblach said in his statement that he wasn't willing to spend six weeks fighting with his daughter in the media.
"Our daughter has been estranged from our family for some time," he said. "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."