State lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct run again
Atlanta — Allegations of sexual misconduct against Kentucky lawmakers have become so common that the statehouse has seemed more like a frat house: Seven have faced accusations, including four who settled secretly with a female legislative aide.
Voters’ response? Mostly, keep them in office.
Of the five lawmakers up for re-election this year, three easily made it through their party primaries and will be favored to retain their seats in November. The other two chose not to run.
It’s not just Kentucky. An Associated Press review finds that 25 state lawmakers who have been accused of sexual misconduct are running for re-election or another office this year. Of those, 15 have already advanced to the Nov. 6 general election. Seven did not even face a challenger in their primary.
Cassaundra Cooper, who filed a sexual harassment claim against a former Kentucky lawmaker in 2013, wonders why voters would re-elect public officials accused of sexual misconduct, or simply choose to ignore the allegations.
“That shocks me,” she said. “Where is the empathy?”
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal — and the extraordinary growth of the #MeToo movement — any assumption that accused office holders would be political pariahs is not borne out on the state level. (Though by comparison, virtually every member of Congress accused of sexual harassment has resigned or opted against running for re-election.)
Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, said the relative political success of accused state lawmakers suggests that voters are unsure how to respond. Does a private failing disqualify someone from serving in public office?
“We don’t have an answer for that,” she said.
In North Carolina, Allison Dahle initially did not plan to bring up the allegations against Rep. Duane Hall as she challenged him in the Democratic primary.
Hall faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, unwanted advances and sexual innuendo. Dahle, a 54-year-old office manager from Raleigh, eventually decided to send two mailers late in the campaign noting the calls by others for Hall to resign, then won the state’s May 8 primary.
“When he didn’t resign, it became clear that I was going to have to highlight the allegations because it didn’t seem apparent that people were reading the news or even knew about it,” Dahle said.
Hall did not respond to an interview request.
Dahle is among the few candidates to raise her opponent’s sexual misconduct claims on the campaign trail. Many challengers say they try to avoid it, preferring to focus on bread-and-butter issues such as education, health care and jobs.
In Arizona, former state Rep. Don Shooter was the first state lawmaker in the country to be expelled in the #MeToo era after he was criticized for a pattern of sexually harassing women. Now he’s back, running in the state’s Republican primary for a seat in the state Senate.
His opponent in the August Republican primary, Sen. Sine Kerr, said she has no plans to highlight the allegations against Shooter.
“I trust the voters of our district,” Kerr said. “They’re informed, and they’ll make a good decision.”
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