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Minnesota legislator quits race after daughter says he molested her

Rep. Jim Knoblach (R) attends a meeting in the State Office Building in St. Paul in 2003. (Joaquin Siopack/St. Cloud Times/AP)

A Minnesota state representative has ended his reelection campaign after his daughter alleged that the Republican lawmaker touched her inappropriately for more than 10 years, beginning when she was 9.

In a statement Friday, Jim Knoblach, of St. Cloud, Minn., denied the accusations but said he was ending his campaign because he was “not willing to spend six weeks fighting with my daughter in the media.”

“I love my children more than anything, and would never do anything to hurt them,” Knoblach’s statement read. “Her allegations are false.”

Knoblach’s announcement came as Minnesota Public Radio News prepared to publish a lengthy report that detailed the allegations against the eight-term state representative and included interviews with his daughter, Laura Knoblach, who shared extensive documentation with the station.

In that account, Laura Knoblach, who is now 23, said the abuse began when she was 9 years old and her father entered her room after she had gone to bed, got in and laid down behind her. She told the station that Knoblach routinely kissed her arms and neck and bit her ears. On dozens of occasions, she said, he approached her from behind while they were together in the kitchen and pressed his body against hers, pinning her against the refrigerator or dishwasher.

“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 said in her interview with the radio station.

When Laura Knoblach was 15, she said, her father once pinned her down and asked if she liked the way he was touching her. She was afraid, she told the station, and felt as though she didn’t have a choice, so she said yes.

Susan Gaertner, the legislator’s lawyer, said in an interview with The Washington Post that Knoblach “acknowledges that he is a physically affectionate father” to both his son and daughter, but, Gaertner said, “the specifics of those displays of physical affection have been exaggerated by his daughter.”

Gaertner said in the era of the #MeToo movement, voters wouldn’t be receptive to the lawmaker’s denials.

“You have the reality of an environment where allegations of misconduct are more difficult to combat in the public’s eye,” she said.

In his statement, Knoblach said he intends to serve out the remaining weeks of his term and then “work towards healing my family.”

Knoblach is chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and his seat in the legislature was one state Democrats were targeting even before these allegations surfaced. Local media now expect Knoblach’s Democratic opponent, Dan Wolgamott, to win the November election.

Gaertner said Laura Knoblach disagrees with her father’s conservative politics and that her decision to come forward was partially politically motivated. Gaertner described a “classic Thanksgiving 2016 fight over politics in the Knoblach home.”

Yet, the station reports, Laura Knoblach has spoken out before about the more than decade-long period of alleged abuse. In December 2016, after she moved away from her family, Laura Knoblach wrote on Facebook in a post she later deleted that her father molested her as a child and that her family “coerced me into silence about it for almost 15 years,” according to a copy of the post the station obtained.

Local police reportedly opened an investigation shortly after her post but declined to press charges. In a letter obtained by multiple news outlets, the Sherburne County attorney wrote to the county sheriff that “There is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that James Michael Knoblach committed a crime.”

“There actually was a thorough criminal investigation and no charges were filed,” Gaertner said. “So, at some point, you have to wonder when it ends.”

Laura Knoblach said she shared her story with the radio station after attempts to hold her father accountable were unsuccessful.

She now lives in Colorado, Minnesota Public Radio News reported, and is a record-setting triathlete. She said training for competitions has helped her cope with the abuse and its aftermath.

Her father will leave office at the end of the year.

Laura Knoblach said she will keep racing.

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