House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa has installed a secret camera in his office inside the Statehouse to protect himself, he says, against potential allegations of sexual misconduct. Crane, who won’t eat alone with women other than his wife, informed a few Republicans about the camera, but not Democrats and others.
Another Republican, Sen. Bob Nonini from Coeur d’Alene, who is also running for lieutenant governor, has now apologized to at least seven other lawmakers after he was heard making inappropriate comments during a sexual-harassment training for legislators. You read the right: He was loudly cracking stupid jokes during a training on how not to sexually harass people.
And in a bombshell story last week by the Idaho Statesman, a teenage page filed complaints last year against two lawmakers and a lobbyist she accused of sexual harassment, one of whom was former Rep. Brandon Hixon, a Republican from Caldwell, who killed himself Jan. 9 amid a criminal investigation that suggested he’d been sexually abusing children for years. The other lawmaker named in the report is Rep. James Holtzclaw, a Republican from Meridian. The page was reassigned to other duties after the complaint; the lawmakers were reprimanded, although it isn’t clear how, and kept their committee positions.
The #MeToo movement has reached the Statehouse, and lawmakers are not responding well, to say the least.
Paranoia, patriarchal hubris and inadequate responses to complaints aren’t the way to solve the problem. Secretly recording women, cracking disgusting knee-slappers and failing to seriously address credible allegations shows that our elected leaders are, again, so far out of touch with what regular Idahoans expect of folks in higher office.
Whatever happened to respect, decency and earnestness?
The Statehouse needs a culture change, but, instead, lawmakers seem more interested in circling the wagons to protect themselves.
So let’s make this clear for them. For men, the best defense against allegations of sexual misconduct isn’t to set up secret cameras; it’s to behave like a gentleman. For lawmakers who seem to think it’s OK to joke about sexual misconduct, we see now that’s it’s women who increasingly are having the last laugh. And for legislative leaders tasked with ensuring respectful workplaces for everyone – and that means everyone, not just lawmakers – setting high standards and ensuring they’re met must be done with sobering judiciousness. One can’t help but wonder how Hixon’s fate may have been different if leadership had been tougher on him when the page lodged the complaints.
Remember, last session Rep. Heather Scott was temporarily stripped of her committee assignments when she was overheard saying that women in the Legislature advance only when they’re willing to perform sexual favors. A stupid comment, to be sure, but worse than sexually harassing a teenager inside the state’s most secularly sacred building?
Besides failing to meet basic standards of human fairness and decency, there are political implications in all this as well.
“I wouldn’t want to have a brainstorming session in Rep. Crane’s office,” Democrat Rep. Ilana Rubel told Idaho Public Television, the first to report on the hidden camera. “You would hate for those ideas to be used in an attack piece.”
There goes any trust lawmakers had in each other, if it were even there to begin with. How can we expect lawmakers to govern when they can’t even trust each other to discuss policy without being secretly recorded?
Instead of asking how to protect themselves, lawmakers should be wondering what they can do to protect others, the very real victims of a toxic culture only now truly coming to light from inside the Statehouse.