ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A favorite to run the Minnesota Republican Party dropped out from the race Friday, a day after an airport arrest and amid other questions surrounding his past.
Starkey Laboratories executive Brandon Sawalich announced his decision in a three-paragraph email to party activists. In part, it said the state GOP “cannot afford distractions for the uphill battle our party has in store.”
Sawalich was arrested and cited Thursday because his truck registration had lapsed months ago.
The Associated Press sought comment later Friday on a lawsuit he and a subordinate settled in 2003 claiming sexual harassment. Sawalich didn’t return calls about the civil case. A law firm that represented the employee who claimed unwanted sexual advances didn’t make an attorney available. Court records show the case, filed in 2001, was settled two years later. Terms were not disclosed and both sides paid their own legal fees.
In court records, Sawalich had denied the woman’s claims he made inappropriate comments and offered career advancement in exchange for sex.
Since entering the race Monday to fill the GOP chairmanship void, Sawalich had amassed considerable support among key party figures for his campaign for chairman. Another candidate, former state Rep. Mike Osskopp, entered the race Thursday night. The party will choose its new chairman on Dec. 31.
The Minnesota GOP has endured a gusher of bad news in the last couple of months.
Party chairman Tony Sutton, deputy chairman Michael Brodkorb and a key staff member all left within a couple months of each other. The state GOP faces debts of more than $500,000 from past elections and even more from an unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial recount.
This week, state Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch resigned her post, and reports surfaced Friday that she faced allegations of inappropriate conduct with an unidentified staff member. And the AP reported Friday on U.S. Senate candidate Joe Arwood’s 2005 conviction for bringing a loaded handgun to the airport without a permit.
Sawalich, a key link to party activist and big donors, was seen as someone who could help get the party back on track. His own unraveling began Thursday.
Sawalich, 36, was detained by airport police officers who noticed his expired registration on a truck registered to him. An assistant had driven it to the airport to pick Sawalich up from a trip, and the businessman was arrested as he left baggage claim. Sawalich said he uses the Ford F-150 in the winter and hadn’t realized his tags were out of date.
He said he was surprised when he was taken into custody, fingerprinted and photographed instead of having the matter resolved through a citation. “There was no altercation. They were courteous and respectful. I was too,” he said.
He was released on his own recognizance and said his wife moved quickly to update the truck registration, which had expired at the end of June. He was initially charged with “intent to escape motor vehicle taxes,” a gross misdemeanor. By Friday, a spokesman for airport police said it would be downgraded to a petty misdemeanor because authorities now regard the overdue registration as “a simple oversight.”
The only other offense on Sawalich’s record is a 2005 petty misdemeanor for speeding, which carried a $125 fine.
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