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Farenthold changes course

Sort of.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, will retire from Congress after finishing his current term, a source close to the congressman told The Tribune Thursday morning. Farenthold soon confirmed the decision in an emotional video posted on Facebook.The decision came after a difficult December for the four-term congressman. Farenthold, one of the quieter members of the Texas delegation, found himself embroiled in a charged atmosphere of sexual harassment allegations in Washington, D.C.

The final blow came in the form of a CNN report on Wednesday night highlighting new sexual harassment allegations that included former employees describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning.

“I’d never served in public office before,” Farenthold said of the allegations in his video Thursday. “I had no idea how to run a Congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional. It accommodated destructive gossip, off-hand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and too often a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he added. “That was wrong. Clearly, it’s not how I was raised, it’s not who I am and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry.”

While he “expected a tough primary campaign” and “was looking forward to it,” Farenthold said he would retire instead.

“I would be forced to engage in a month-long campaign for personal vindication,” he said. “That’s not why I came to Congress. Quite simply, my constituents deserve better.”

See here and here for some background. There’s a big complicating factor in all this that I will get to in a moment, but first let’s take a closer look at those latest allegations.

A former senior aide to Rep. Blake Farenthold has approached the House Ethics Committee to share a damning account of working for the Texas Republican, with the intent of describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning — and his congressional office as an intensely hostile environment that drove the aide to physical and emotional distress.

Michael Rekola, who was Farenthold’s communications director in 2015, described in an interview with CNN new details of the congressman’s abusive behavior. It ranged from making sexually graphic jokes to berating aides — bullying that Rekola says led him to seek medical treatment and psychological counseling, and at one point, caused him to vomit daily.

One comment from the congressman was especially personal. Rekola was about to leave town to get married in July 2015, when, he said, Farenthold, standing within earshot of other staffers in his Capitol Hill office, said to the groom-to-be: “Better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle — it will be the last time.” He then proceeded to joke about whether Rekola’s now-wife could wear white on her wedding day — a clear reference, Rekola said, to whether she had had premarital sex.

“I was disgusted and I left. I walked out,” Rekola said. Almost immediately after returning from his wedding, he gave his two-weeks notice.

Boy, he must have been a hell of a boss to work for, don’t you think? And good Lord that “I’d never run a Congressional office before” baloney. Simple human decency is more than enough to prevent most people from saying and doing these things to coworkers and colleagues, and that’s before you factor in the power you had to fire them. What a total jackass.

So what about that complicating factor? Well, you may recall that the filing deadline was Monday. State law allows a 24-hour period after that to reconsider and withdraw. Guess what? It’s too late for Farenthold to do that.

Farenthold’s decision comes two days too late to remove his name from next year’s Republican primary ballot, according to state officials.

Monday was the deadline for candidates to file for a spot on the ballots for the Republican and Democratic primaries. Candidates have until the day after the regular filing deadline – which was Tuesday – to withdraw from their race, according to the Texas Election Code.

The party can also reject a candidate’s application for a place on the primary ballot. But when a party chooses to do this, it happens at the outset rather than after the candidate was already accepted on the ballot.

Since Farenthold missed the Tuesday deadline to withdraw, his name will still remain on the Republican primary ballot on March 6, according to Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

“Barring any challenge to the candidate’s application before the mail-in ballots go out in late January, his name will still be on the ballot,” Taylor said.

According to the Texas Election Code, a challenge to a candidate’s application “must state with specificity how the application does not comply with the applicable requirements as to form, content, and procedure.” A challenge to Farenthold’s application would need to be brought into the Secretary of State’s office prior to Jan. 19 — before any mail-in ballots are mailed out to Texas voters.

A successful challenge would need to prove Farenthold’s application did not comply with state law – like providing an incorrect permanent residence or mailing address.

Farenthold’s plans to resign isn’t enough to challenge his application, Taylor said.

As RG Ratcliffe puts it, this is Farenthold’s “final screwup” as an accidental Congressman. He’s still on the March ballot, and that means there’s at least a chance that he could win that election and be the Republican nominee in CD27 next November. Which would leave him and the Republican leadership that put pressure on him to quit the choice of leaving him there and letting him be a campaign issue for the rest of the year, or having him withdraw and concede the seat to the Democratic nominee. Well, as we saw in CD22 in 2006, you could try to run a write-in candidate, and who knows, maybe the district is Republican enough to still win in that fashion. Let’s just say the Republicans would rather not have to find out. Way to go, Blake. Mother Jones has more.

So now that names have been named, now what?

Maybe some hearings? I don’t know.

Texas leaders called for a review of sexual harassment policies at the state Legislature following a Texas Tribune story detailing how current procedures offered little protection for victims and describing a wide range of harassment at the Capitol. The Texas House approved changes to its policy last week. The Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to lead a review of the chamber’s policy, has yet to hold any public hearings on the matter.

“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said in a statement responding to the calls for resignation Thursday, adding that he had asked Kolkhorst to “determine if there are additional steps we should take.”

“I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior,” Patrick said.

Earlier today, state Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the behavior alleged in the Daily Beast article is “unacceptable” in any situation, but especially so for an elected official.

“Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed,” he said in a statement before Annie’s List announced their call for resignation.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement that she finds the recent stories in the media “very alarming.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when people feel their only option is talking to the press,” she said.

Rodríguez and Garcia both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers. Garcia said she is also calling for a hotline to report abuse.

“As this discussion continues at both the national and state levels, I applaud those who have come forward and encourage more women to continue shedding light on the culture of many of our industries and institutions, including the legislature, so we can create a culture shift where these incidents can be fully investigated, and hopefully, prevented,” Rodríguez said.

See here for the background. Since this story was published, Sen. Kolkhorst has agreed to hold a public hearing, on December 14. Details are here. According to Equality Texas, testimony is by invitation only, but the hearing is open. What if anything will come out of this is unclear, but it’s something.

I want to add that since that Daily Beast story was published, two friends of mine have posted on Facebook about their experiences with Sen. Miles. One reported that Miles “grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth”, the other said “I was “hugged” so closely, for so long and so…ummm….thoroughly (??) that I joked with one of my colleagues upon recounting the incident that I might ought to take a pregnancy test”. I’m not naming them because I didn’t ask them if I could name them here, but as I said they’re both friends of mine. I have no doubt that there are plenty of others with similar stories. This isn’t going away, and no number of complaints about anonymous allegations or “powerful enemies” will change the fact that there are real women out there with real stories to tell. What are we going to do about that? You know what I think. We need to know what our leaders think.

Farenthold draws a crowd of opponents

Bring ’em on.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Bech Bruun, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, resigned Thursday from that position ahead of an anticipated bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

“Serving as the Chairman of the Texas Water Development Board has been the privilege of a lifetime,” Bruun wrote in a letter dated Dec. 7 to Gov. Greg Abbott obtained by The Texas Tribune. “Recent events, namely the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, have led my family and me to the belief that the time has come for me to focus my passion for public service closer to home.”

Bruun is expected to file to run as a Republican for Texas’ 27th Congressional District as early as Friday.

[…]

For months, Bruun has received encouragement from within the congressional district to challenge Farenthold, and his expected entrance into the race comes days before the 2018 filing deadline. Michael Cloud, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee and former chairman of the Victoria County GOP, launched a bid in October for the seat. Three lesser-known Republicans, Christopher Mapp, Jerry Hall and Eddie Gassman, have also lined up for potential campaigns.

On the Democratic side, at least two Democrats have so far filed to run for the seat.

These recent events also probably had an effect on his decision. And there’s more where that came from.

Members of the U.S. House Ethics Committee unanimously voted Thursday to establish a subcommittee to investigate allegations that U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Corpus Christi Republican, sexually harassed a subordinate several years ago.

[…]

“Over the last two weeks, more information has been disclosed about the nature of the settlement between the parties. In addition, both Representative Farenthold and the Complainant have publicly expressed an interest in increased transparency in this matter,” a committee news release stated. “In light of these developments, the Committee has determined that it is appropriate to establish an Investigative Subcommittee to continue its investigation.”

“The Committee notes that the mere fact of establishing an Investigative Subcommittee does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

But wait, as the commercials used to say, that’s not all. There’s still more:

Embattled Texas Republican Blake Farenthold, under fire in an ongoing sexual harassment probe, said Friday that he and his entire congressional staff underwent sensitivity and sexual harassment training last year after two female staffers complained of gender discrimination and “sexualized commentary” in his Capitol Hill office.

The women’s complaints in 2016 followed that of former spokeswoman Lauren Greene, who had recently settled a federal lawsuit that accused Farenthold of sexual harassment and of firing her in retaliation for her complaint.

The new revelations, which Farenthold acknowledged to the Chronicle on Friday, bring to at least three the number of women who have complained of either sexual harassment, gender discrimination, or a hostile work environment in his office.

It’s never just one woman these guys harass. There’s always more. That aforementioned former subordinate will be giving testimony to the committee. We’ll see how that goes. Since that story was published on Thursday a third Democratic candidates has filed. The three Dem candidates in CD27 are Roy Barrera, who was Farenthold’s opponent in 2016, former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald, who ran for CD27 in 2012 but didn’t make it out of the primary, and first-time candidate Eric Holguin. Anyone want to lay odds on whether Farenthold makes it to November?

That sexual harassment day of reckoning in Texas politics has begun

The Daily Beast follows up its initial reporting about the secret sexual predators of Texas politics with a story that names names. Two names, in particular. Rather than excerpt at length, allow me to quote the Texas Monthly Daily Post summary of the article:

Two Texas state lawmakers face new sexual harassment allegations. Democratic state Representatives Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti were both named in detailed claims of sexual harassment by several people, including former staffers and interns, in a story published by the Daily Beast late Wednesday night. One woman said that when she was a Texas legislative intern, Miles approached her and offered her cash, saying, “Bitch, you want to fuck with me tonight?” In a separate alleged incident, a Democratic state representative said that he witnessed Miles leaning out of a bus and loudly cat-calling women on the streets of downtown Austin. A former legislative staffer said he saw Miles forcibly kiss a woman at the W Hotel in Austin. “He offered to buy her a drink, kept trying to kiss her, and she kept trying to push him away,” the staffer told the Daily Beast. “He kept laughing about it. It was so creepy, and he had this big smile . . . He also has a tendency to call women out of their name when they turn him down. ‘Bitch,’ ‘ho,’ ‘whore.’ He doesn’t like being told ‘no.’” Uresti, meanwhile, apparently had gained a reputation for harassing women. “[Uresti] was one of the worst,” former Texas political reporter Karen Brooks told the Daily Beast. “He would check me out all the time . . . He gave me inappropriate hugs. He put his hands on me, he ogled me. I would not get in an elevator with him. If members were having dinner and he was going to be there, I stopped going.” Another former reporter said Uresti “put his tongue down my throat” without her consent after they went out for happy hour drinks. Uresti denied the allegations to the Daily Beast; Miles’s office did not return requests for comment.

Go read the whole thing. It’s clear these two are not the only offenders – Wendy Davis mentions but does not name a Republican legislator who groped her at the Capitol, and there are strong implications that there are many horror stories about lobbyists to be told, all just for starters – but for now we must reckon with Sens. Miles and Uresti. The fact that this story came out on the same day that US Senator Al Franken announced his resignation in response to allegations that were not as harrowing as the ones made here should not be lost on us. I’ve known Sen. Miles since he first ran for the Lege in 2006 against Al Edwards. I’ve never met Sen. Uresti, but I was glad to see him defeat the late Frank Madla in 2006. Both of them were improvements over the incumbents they ousted, and both have done good work in Austin. But both of them need to be held accountable for their actions. Both of them need to resign, and the sooner the better.

It brings me no joy to say any of this, but here we are. There are no excuses or justifications for their actions. It’s an eternal stain on all of us that the system in place at the Capitol allowed this sort of behavior – which, again, is very much not limited to Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti – with no consequences for anyone but the victims. Resigning won’t undo what has been done and it won’t give justice to those that Miles and Uresti are alleged to have harassed and assaulted, but it will at least be a small step in the direction of bringing those days and those ways to an end. We as Democrats and as decent human beings have a responsibility to the people our officials represent and to ourselves to lead the way on changing behavior. If it grates on Sens. Miles and Uresti, as it did on Sen. Franklin, that they are being pushed out when the likes of Donald Trump and Roy Moore and Blake Farenthold seem to be getting a pass, I understand. That is indeed an injustice. But this is what I have the power to affect right now.

Of course, nobody really cares what some guy on the Internet thinks. For the right thing to happen, Democratic elected officials and other high profile individuals must act as well. Annie’s List got the ball rolling by urging the two Senators to resign. Others need to follow their lead. The people who are peers and colleagues and donors and other influencers of Sens. Miles and Uresti need to use that influence and give the same message to them. Their behavior was completely unacceptable. They need to step down. And note that on a practical level, neither is on the ballot this year, so simply not filing for re-election in 2020 isn’t enough. The right answer is to step down now, so successors can be elected in time for the beginning of the 2019 session. Both Miles and Uresti have since put out statements denying the allegations, so this isn’t going to happen without a fight. It’s ugly and it’s discouraging, but there’s no other choice.

Lege updates sexual harassment policy

Good, and about time.

Rep. Donna Howard

Members of the Texas House approved a new sexual harassment policy Friday with significant changes, including language strengthening protections against retaliation and specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The revised policy, which was adopted during a Friday hearing of the House Administration Committee, offers more details on the actions that could constitute sexual harassment and describes various ways victims can get help, particularly how they may pursue an internal complaint.

It comes about two weeks after The Texas Tribune detailed flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

Following the news reports, several Texas lawmakers called for reviews of sexual harassment policies at the Capitol. State Rep. Donna Howard was among a group of female lawmakers in the House who had a conference call with House officials to discuss changes to the policy.

“One of the things the women were particularly concerned about is making sure this is a policy that shows the respect that this situation deserves,” Howard, D-Austin, said at Friday’s hearing. “That it gives enough information that a person feels comfortable in knowing that if they do find themselves the subject of harassment, that they have a policy that gives them clear guidance and also gives them some certainty that there will be action taken.”

House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said the new policy would require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training by January 2018. The training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune. But Geren said House leaders would keep records of who attended the trainings — and that those records would be subject to public information laws.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the policy. It lays out what is harassment and gives examples, because in the year of our Lord twenty-freaking-seventeen some people are too dense to figure it out for themselves, and it outlines the process for how to report it. Doesn’t look like it’s all that much, but what was there before was basically nothing, so it should be a step forward. Let’s hope it helps. The Observer and the Chron have more.

Hey, remember that harassment lawsuit against Rep. Blake Farenthold?

I’m just gonna leave this right here.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Rep. Blake Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokesman — the only known sitting member of Congress to have used a little-known congressional account to pay an accuser, people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

Lauren Greene, the Texas Republican’s former communications director, sued her boss in December 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

Greene said another Farenthold aide told her the lawmaker said he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about Greene. She also claimed that Farenthold “regularly drank to excess” and told her in February 2014 that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.”

When she complained about comments Farenthold and a male staffer made to her, Greene said the congressman improperly fired her. She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, but the case was later dropped after both parties reached a private settlement.

No information was ever released on that agreement.

House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door Friday morning meeting that only one House office in the past five years had used an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Harper said in that one instance, the settlement totaled $84,000.

[…]

Farenthold is likely to face repercussions from fellow House Republicans for using taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim. Recent reports, including in POLITICO, revealed that $17 million has been paid out quietly to settle workplace disputes.

Harper said Friday that only $360,000 of that total involved a House office.

That, however, won’t stem demands from conservatives that members who have been part of such settlements use their own personal money to reimburse the treasury.

See here, here, and here for some background. Farenthold was cleared by the Office of Congressional Ethics in October of 2015, and the lawsuit was settled the next month. If it weren’t for the current national conversation about harassment and abuse, I’m willing to bet we’d have never heard about the amount of the settlement or the source of the payment. Farenthold has filed for re-election, but after what happened to Smokey Joe Barton, you have to wonder if that could change. ThinkProgress, the Trib, and the Chron have more.

Smokey Joe will not run for re-election

Another one bites the dust.

Rep. Joe Barton

Embattled U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, announced his retirement from Congress on Thursday.

“I am very proud of my public record and the many accomplishments of my office. It has been a tremendous honor to represent the 6th District of Texas for over three decades, but now it is time to step aside and let there be a new voice.”

“I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection in 2018,” he said. “To the people of the 6th District, thank you for your support and friendship.”

Barton’s decision was first announced by The Dallas Morning News.

The decision came after a tumultuous week for the congressman, after a nude photo of Barton surfaced on social media.

The drumbeat for Barton’s exit came from local officials, including state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O’Hare.

His retirement sets off a race to replace him, a race that is all but certain to be determined in the GOP primary.

Two Republicans, perennial candidate Monte Mitchell and former Navy pilot Jake Ellzey, entered the race in recent days. As Barton’s problems mounted, a movement got underway to draft Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright, a former Barton staffer. He did not immediately return a call after Barton’s announcement.

See here and here for the background. A subsequent report about pervy text messages sent by Barton to a local Republican activist probably pushed him in the direction of this decision. I quibble with the Trib’s “all but certain to be determined in the GOP primary” characterization. I’d classify CD06 as Strong Republican, but not Safe Republican. The GOP will be a big favorite, but they can’t take this one for granted, especially in a year as bad as 2018 is threatening to be.

It should be noted that Barton is not resigning. Unless he has a further announcement to make, he’ll serve out the rest of his term. Nonetheless, the fact that he felt compelled to step down causes Think Progress to castigate national Democrats for their failure to put the same kind of pressure on Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers. It’s entirely possible there’s more to the Barton story than what we know now, just as it turned out there was more to the Franken story than what first came out, but they make a good point. At the very least, all of these incidents, and no doubt more of them to come, show just how badly Congress needs a sexual harassment policy and process in place that works for the victims.

(And just as a reminder: Donald Trump is still President, Roy Moore is likely to be elected Senator, and Clarence Thomas, who is oddly overlooked in the ongoing conversation about sexual assault and harassment, remains on the Supreme Court, having been appointed by a President who turned out to have his own gropiness issues. It’s harassment all the way down.)

As for the field in CD06, the Star-Telegram updates us:

Republican Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright — a former chief of staff and district director for Barton — said he will file to run for the 6th Congressional District, which includes most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

[…]

Republican J.K. “Jake” Ellzey, a Texas Veterans Commission member who lives in Midlothian, also has filed to run for the post.

Several Democrats are in the race, including Ruby Faye Woolridge of Arlington, who ran against Barton in 2016; Jana Lynne Sanchez, a public relations specialist from Arlington; Levii R. Shocklee of Arlington; and John W. Duncan.

As I noted before, there are a couple of other Dems who have filed finance reports for CD06 and have campaign webpages up. On the Republican side, State Sen. Konni Burton, who is up for re-election but hasn’t filed yet, could jump over to this race. Nothing like a fleet of Congressional retirements to shake things up at the lower levels. RG Ratcliffe and Daily Kos have more.

The Lege needs a sexual harassment process

This is unacceptable.

As sexual misconduct accusations pile up against men in power across the country, interviews with more than two dozen current and former lawmakers and legislative aides indicate sexual harassment not only is pervasive at the Texas Capitol but also regularly goes unchecked. Most of those interviewed described how men at the Capitol — some of them lawmakers — engaged in a wide range of harassment, including degrading comments and gestures, groping and unwanted sexual advances.

Yet not a single formal complaint of sexual harassment has been filed in either the House or Senate since 2011, according to a review of public records and interviews with officials responsible for fielding complaints. Even though sexual harassment policies have been in place for two decades, few employees interviewed by the Tribune even knew they could file a formal complaint.

The policies themselves are outdated — both reference a state agency that no longer exists — and rely on Capitol officials with little incentive or authority to enforce them, particularly in cases of harassment by lawmakers.

“Well, you know we can’t fire them. The people get to fire them,” said Patsy Spaw, of elected officials. As the secretary of the senate, Spaw’s duties include resolving complaints in the chamber.

[…]

The House and Senate have had a sexual harassment policies since 1995. Both generally state that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and lay out basic procedures for reporting any misconduct.

The House policy directs employees to make complaints to the chair of the House Administration Committee — an influential position set by the House Speaker and currently held by Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren — or to the manager of the House payroll and personnel department. Over in the Senate, complaints would be reported to Spaw, the Senate Human Resources office or supervisors in individual offices.

But those officials have little to no authority over lawmakers who are ultimately elected by voters back home. In the Senate, a legislator could be reprimanded privately or publicly if they were found to have sexually harassed someone, Spaw said. In the House, the state Constitution gives lawmakers “the power to punish a member for disorderly conduct and, in extreme cases, to expel a member,” Jon Schnautz, the chamber’s ethics adviser, said in a statement.

Several former staffers said they would not have reported their experiences with sexual harassment to House Administration because they had no confidence that the member-led committee would be objective.

“I probably would never even have felt like that was an outlet that I could trust, but I didn’t even know that was a process that existed,” said Genevieve Cato, a former House employee who has spoken publicly about harassment at the Capitol.

Another staffer said she didn’t feel Geren’s committee was a “safe place to report that.”

Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who’s served in the House for almost two decades, refused to answer questions from the Tribune about how his committee would handle a sexual harassment complaint because, he said, the committee had not received any.

“There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any,” Geren said. “I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”

Asked if the policy needed revision, Geren said he would not further discuss the issue. “I don’t have any more comments about it,” he said.

For her part, Spaw said any complaints filed in the Senate would be taken “really seriously,” though she said a resolution would also depend on the Senate Administration Committee and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to take action.

“Each situation would be individual,” she said. “But it is a conundrum … I’m thankful I’ve not had to deal with it.”

Yeah, having Dan Patrick be in charge of resolving your sexual harassment complaint. What could possibly go wrong? I don’t know what we should be doing, but I do know what we’re doing now isn’t worth a damn. Maybe we could start by listening to Cato and others who have been speaking out about this and learn from their experience about what might have helped them at the time? Just a thought.

This story came out the next day, and credit where credit is due.

Citing “disturbing accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct” by public officials in Washington, D.C. and Texas, state Rep. Linda Koop asked the state’s Republican leadership Tuesday to develop a new protocol to protect those working in the state Capitol.

In her letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and House and Senate leaders, Koop, a Dallas Republican, raised concerns that legislative personnel were not “fully educated as to where to report misconduct or harassment.”

“These disturbing reports make me concerned for the safety of our Capitol staffers, interns, reporters, lobbyists and all those who work at the Capitol,” Koop wrote. “Many of our staff and interns are young people and may be particularly vulnerable to those in positions of power.”

It’s a start. Greg Abbott had not replied to a request for a comment from the Trib, so we don’t have any idea yet whether this will gain traction. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

The secret sexual predators of Texas politics

Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable. Maybe a nice cup of hot tea? There now, all settled in? Good. Now steel yourselves and read this.

More than a year before the now-infamous “shitty media men” list, women in Texas’s statehouse secretly created their own online whisper network to document sexual harassment and assault in their industry.

This spreadsheet, called the “Burn Book of Bad Men,” lists 38 men, named by an unknown number of women who contributed anonymously to the document. Its accusations run the gamut from pay discrimination to creepy comments and sexual assault.

The men in the document include campaign workers, legislative staffers, and lawmakers. Some of the allegations are recent; others stretch back 20 years. Most of the women who contributed to the list and circulated it early on worked for Democrats, so most of the accused men are also Democratic officials or staffers.

More than one sexual-assault allegation on the list involves a man on a Democratic political campaign, according to women who contributed to the spreadsheet.

Excerpts of the document, but not the full list, were reviewed by The Daily Beast this week.

For years before the document existed online, this type of information “just kind of lived in whisper circles,” said Rebecca*, who started the list in the fall of 2016.

Rebecca told The Daily Beast that she worked in Texas politics for about two years before giving up and leaving the state because the political environment was “toxic and horrible.”

Sexism in the Texas state legislature is well-documented, in both vague and explicit terms.

In 2005, Republican State Sen. Craig Estes allegedly propositioned an intern at my former publication, The Texas Observer, on her first day in the Capitol. He let her know that if she needed any “adult supervision,” she was welcome to “see him in his office,” according to the magazine. The implication was clear, and it was included in the magazine’s list of notable quotes that year.

In 2013, I wrote a lengthy story about how men were—in addition to regularly making crude jokes at work—caught looking at porn on the Texas House and Senate floor. Others asked about their colleagues’ breasts during debates. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving female state legislator in Texas history, once told me a horrifying tale about a lawmaker who nicknamed her his “black mistress.”

(Depressingly, there’s a long list of similarly toxic situations in other statehouses, including in CaliforniaMassachusettsKentuckyFloridaIllinoisOregon, and Kansas.)

My story documented the misogyny of the “good ol’ boys’ club,” but it didn’t cover even a fraction of the previously unreported accusations in Rebecca’s living document.

Now go read the rest of the story, which contains a few names and a lot more personal accounts. Then go read RG Ratcliffe for a bit of historical perspective; in short, things aren’t much better now than they were thirty years ago. Keep in mind that the list in question was put together mostly by Democratic women, so there are undoubtedly a bunch of Republican stories to tell, too.

Finished reading them? Good. Now let’s talk about what we can do about it. A few thoughts:

– First and foremost, listen to women when they tell you their stories. (Actually, even before that, be the kind of person that women will trust to tell their stories.) Know what is happening and what has been happening.

– When you see or hear about stuff like this, take action to stop it. Call out the bad behavior and the men who are committing it. It won’t be easy. I know I’ve missed plenty of opportunities in my life to do this, through obliviousness or cowardice. All of us, me very much included, have to do better.

– We really can’t give a pass to anyone, even if they have done good work and otherwise fought the good fight. That’s going to be hard and painful, but it’s the only way. Everyone has to be accountable for their actions.

– Ultimately, the way to make something less of a “boys’ club” is to improve the gender balance. There’s plenty of social science research to back that up. I’m not claiming this is some kind of panacea – among other things, I’m not nearly naive enough to think that given truly equal access and opportunity, women will be any less conniving, dishonest, or generally shitty than men are. Human nature is what it is, after all. I am saying that a legislature that is closer to fifty-fifty – right now, less than twenty percent of legislators in Texas are female – will at the very least be a better place for women to work. There’s a vicious cycle at work here – we need more women involved, not just as legislators but also as staffers, political operatives, lobbyists, reporters, and so forth, but the existing hostile climate drives them away and makes it that much harder to achieve the balance we need. Maybe, just maybe, if the men who are the biggest part of the problem come to understand that their bad behavior can and will be made public, that will make it a little easier.

(Yes, I know, I wrote this whole piece without mentioning Roy Moore. I’ll have something to say about him tomorrow. For now, let’s concentrate on that mote in our own eye.)

The GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey

A lot of the stuff we talk about when we discuss Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill is business – the opposition from businesses, the political ramifications of a GOP/business schism, the economics of the bathroom bill, etc etc etc. But schools and students are a big piece of the picture here, as the lawsuit against the US Department of Education directive on student access to bathrooms and other facilities shows, and the effect of a bathroom bill on schools and students has been in the background. With that in mind, let me direct you to the GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey, for which a much more easily read executive summary is here. Let me quote a bit:

In 1999, GLSEN identified that little was known about the school experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and that LGBTQ youth were nearly absent from national studies of adolescents. We responded to this national need for data by launching the first National School Climate Survey, and we continue to meet this need for current data by conducting the study every two years. Since then, the biennial National School Climate Survey has documented the unique challenges LGBTQ students face and identified interventions that can improve school climate. The survey documents the prevalence of anti-LGBT language and victimization, such as experiences of harassment and assault in school. In addition, the survey examines school policies and practices that may contribute to negative experiences for LGBTQ students and make them feel as if they are not valued by their school communities. The survey also explores the effects that a hostile school climate may have on LGBTQ students’ educational outcomes and well-being. Finally, the survey reports on the availability and the utility of LGBT-related school resources and supports that may offset the negative effects of a hostile school climate and promote a positive learning experience. In addition to collecting this critical data every two years, we also add and adapt survey questions to respond to the changing world for LGBTQ youth. For example, in the 2015 survey we expanded upon the types of discriminatory practices we explore by including questions related to extracurricular activities, school athletics, and gender segregation in school activities. The National School Climate Survey remains one of the few studies to examine the school experiences of LGBTQ students nationally, and its results have been vital to GLSEN’s understanding of the issues that LGBTQ students face, thereby informing our ongoing work to ensure safe and affirming schools for all.

[…]

LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their sexual orientation:

–Were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (62.2% vs. 20.1%);

–Had lower grade point averages (GPAs) than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.3);

–Were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any post-secondary education (e.g., college or trade school) than those who experienced lower levels (10.0% vs. 5.2%);

–Were more likely to have been disciplined at school (54.9% vs. 32.1%); and

–Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.

LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their gender expression:

–Were almost three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (59.6% vs. 20.8%);

–Had lower GPAs than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.3);

–Were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any postsecondary education (e.g., college or trade school; 9.5% vs. 5.4%);

–Were more likely to have been disciplined at school (52.1% vs. 32.7%); and

–Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.

42.5% of LGBTQ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.

I highlight this for three reasons. One is that we as a state and as a society put high expectations on our students, which are reflected in the never-ending and continually-increasing academic standards we demand that they meet. It is therefore on us to ensure that we are doing all we can to remove barriers to their success, of which harassment and discrimination are two of the most pernicious. Two, Dan Patrick presents his bill as a way of “protecting” children. I would challenge him and his minions to explain why this “protection” of some undefined set of children must come at the direct cost of so many other children. And three, to remind the business lobby that is now doing the hard work of opposing this travesty that it is not just about how their employees and customers are treated, but also how the children of their employees and customers are treated, or to put it another way, how their future employees and customers are treated. The Supreme Court is about to hear a case that may force the issue nationally, or it may punt it back to the states. We need to be ready to respond appropriately and compassionately.

Dan Patrick doesn’t care about sexual assault

Such a moral exemplar you are, Danno.

Amid a wave of reports of women alleging Donald Trump kissed or groped them without their consent, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrickmaintained Thursday that the Republican presidential nominee has effectively pushed the issue behind him.

Patrick, who is Texas Chairman for Trump’s presidential campaign, initially addressed the scandal currently dominating the presidential campaign Wednesday to Time Warner Cable News’ Capital Tonight.

“This story is kind of in the rear-view mirror now,” Patrick said, referring to an 11-year-old tape published by the Washington Post that showed Trump bragging about kissing and groping women without their consent.

As Capital Tonight aired the segment Wednesday evening, several news outlets published reports featuring women accusing Trump of activities similar to what he talked about doing in the 2005 video. First, The New York Times published a story in which two women accused Trump of touching them inappropriately.

“He was like an octopus,”  Jessica Leeds, one of the women, told the Times. “His hands were everywhere.”

The Palm Beach Post also published a story about a local woman who said she was groped by Trump 13 years ago. People Magazine published a story in which a reporter accused Trump of “forcing his tongue” down her throat.

Trump denied the allegations and is reportedly considering filing a lawsuit. On Twitter, he said: “The phony story in the failing @nytimes is a TOTAL FABRICATION. Written by same people as last discredited story on women. WATCH!”

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, spokesman Allen Blakemore said Patrick continues to believe voters see the Trump tape story “through the rear view mirror.”

“As far as new allegations published in the New York Times, the Lieutenant Governor thinks the voters will decide that they are far more concerned about the direction of the Supreme Court, the economy and national security than a decades old tawdry tabloid story published in a newspaper that has already endorsed Mrs. Clinton,” Blakemore said.

Patrick is such a coward, he can’t even bring himself to address the assault allegations. We have moved on from the “grab her by the pussy” tape, Dan. There’s much worse out there now, and I’ll bet there’s still more to come. Try to keep up. Of course, none of Trump’s racism or anti-Semitism or palling around with Vladimir Putin have bothered Dan Patrick so far, so I suppose this should be no mystery. In the meantime, Nick Anderson’s cartoon says it all. This needs to be pointed out repeatedly when Patrick’s potty bill is being debated in the Senate.

Good riddance to a bad judge

Meet federal district judge Walter Smith. Now say a long overdue goodbye to him.

Walter Smith

Walter Smith

One of Texas’ strictest federal judges — serving a year’s ban from hearing cases after being slapped hard by a panel of appeals court judges last year — has retired amid a renewed investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco was publicly reprimanded for sexual misconduct last fall over a 1998 incident in which he reportedly groped and kissed a court clerk. He submitted his resignation to President Barack Obama last week, effective Sept. 14, and will draw an annuity equal to his current salary, $203,100 per year, for the rest of his life.

It was unclear if the resignation will end the investigation, which was restarted this year after an appeal by Dallas lawyer Ty Clevenger, who filed the original complaint against Smith and who wants the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach him.

A committee of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in July to continue investigating to see if Smith made advances toward other women. A spokesman for the 5th Circuit could not immediately say Tuesday whether the court’s Judicial Council will make its full investigation report public or whether the investigation will now end.

“Good riddance,” Clevenger said of Smith on Tuesday. “Thank goodness he won’t be able to hurt anybody else.”

Clevenger said he still wants Smith to be impeached “for two reasons: One, I think it’s appropriate. And, I don’t think he needs to be paid $200,000 after what he’s done.”

The Judicial Council issued the reprimand last fall, suspending Smith from hearing any new cases for a year, but did not recommend impeachment. The panel found he had made “inappropriate and unwanted physical and non-physical sexual advances” toward a court clerk in his chambers in 1998, which it deemed “in contravention of existing standards of behavior for federal judges.”

The council’s order also said Smith “does not understand the gravity” of the inappropriate behavior and “allowed false factual assertions to be made in response to the complaint, which together with the lateness of his admissions contributed greatly to the duration and cost of the investigation.”

Sounds like a heck of a guy, doesn’t he? Texas Lawyer tells us more.

The Fifth Circuit’s punishment confirmed judicial misconduct allegations originally filed by Ty Clevenger, a former Dallas lawyer who was previously sanctioned $25,000 by the judge for filing a “frivolous” racketeering case in his court. Clevenger was later reprimanded by the State Bar of Texas in 2014 because of Smith’s sanction but used the bar disciplinary proceedings to subpoena the witness who alleged Smith sexually harassed her in 1998 as part of his defense.

In her deposition, the woman stated that in 1998, Smith approached her in the courthouse smelling of liquor and told her to “come see me sometime.” Smith later called her and instructed her to come to his chambers, which she did, according to her deposition.

“He basically came over to me and put his arms around me and kissed me and I just froze. I couldn’t move,” the woman testified. “And he said, ‘Let me make love to you.’ And I—and I—I just freaked out.”

Clevenger appealed Smith’s punishment to the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States in January, urging the body to suspend Smith from the bench immediately and recommend his impeachment. Clevenger also alleged that the sexual harassment incident was not isolated and submitted to the Fifth Circuit the names of other witnesses to Smith’s alleged abuse of women in the courthouse.

In July, the committee decided to send Smith’s reprimand back to the Fifth Circuit to examine whether there was a “pattern and practice” to Smith’s behavior, noting that Clevenger had provided the names of other witnesses.

You can see a copy of the woman’s deposition here, via the Current. And oh, yes, it gets worse.

According to statements the woman made during a 2014 deposition, it all started when Smith said hello to her one morning in 1998 as he was entering the courthouse — something that seemed only a little strange at first because she’d hardly ever seen the judge before, let alone talked to him. Also: his breath smelled like liquor.

After telling her good morning and asking how she was doing, Smith asked the woman to swing by and see him in his office sometime. It got even weirder when the judge called the woman immediately after she sat down at her desk upon returning from lunch later that day. “Where have you been? … I told you to come see me,” she recalled him saying. Smith told the woman to walk down the hall and tell his secretary she needed to see the judge. The woman thought that maybe Smith wanted to talk about a promotion – he was, after all, looking for a new courtroom clerk.

Instead, according to her deposition, “He basically came over to me and put his arms around me and kissed me, and I just froze. I couldn’t move. And he said, ‘Let me make love to you.’” She told him that was a stupid idea. In return, “he pulled me to him again, and he kissed me again and stuck his tongue down my throat, and he pressed himself against me. I could tell he had an erection, and he said, you know, ‘A couch right here.’”

The woman says she thought about Smith’s reputation for having a temper. Considering he also seemed and smelled drunk, the woman says she struggled with what to do. Meanwhile, Smith started to grope her. According to the deposition: “I just remember he just put his arms around me, around my back, then lower. And then he started to try [to] touch my breasts, and I kind of pushed away.” The woman ran through excuse after excuse until she finally broke away, walked out of Smith’s office and sat down at her desk. She still asks herself why she wasn’t more direct. As she said in her deposition, “I was just trying to keep him from blowing up at me.”

The woman’s story would be alarming enough if it ended there. It doesn’t. The woman says Smith called her at her desk later in the day, asking her to take a couple of days off work. He wanted to take a trip with her. He told her he’d make sure she would get paid time off. Before coming into work the next day, the woman called her supervisor to tell him about Smith’s actions. She begged her supervisor not to leave her alone with the judge. She was scared because Smith apparently wouldn’t take no for an answer.

When the woman got to the office later that day, Smith had left a dozen yellow roses on her desk. Smith was calling as soon as she sat down (she figured he’d watched her walk into the building). “Where have you been?” he asked her, according to her deposition testimony. “I’ve been waiting for you here all day.” She told Smith he shouldn’t have sent her the roses. She says he told her, “I just had to.” Later that day, he managed to get her alone in her office by sending her supervisor on an errand.

It was a Friday, and later that afternoon, Smith again called the woman at her desk. He asked what she was doing that weekend. She said she was spending it with her grandparents. Before he left the office for the day, Smith left a note on the woman’s desk saying, “I hope you have a pleasant weekend.” She went into the office that weekend, grabbed her belongings, and left the flowers on the empty desk. A coworker would later tell her that Smith just let the flowers sit there and die.

Within hours of the woman telling her supervisors she was quitting, she says higher ups in the clerk’s office offered her six weeks leave with pay in the hopes that she’d reconsider at the end of it. She said in her deposition that while she was on leave she got a strange call from Smith’s law clerk. He claimed Smith had been in the hospital, and that he was so distraught, he couldn’t come into work.

The complaint eventually reached Harry Lee Hudspeth, who was then chief judge of the Western District of Texas, which is anchored in San Antonio (Hudspeth is now listed as a Senior U.S. District Judge in Austin). The woman claims that Hudspeth ultimately called her. He was dismissive throughout the call, she claimed. He didn’t ask a single question about the actual assault or Smith’s behavior toward her in the workplace. “It was ugly,” she said of the call. “It was disrespectful. It was demeaning.”

The woman actually did try to go back to her job but quickly realized she couldn’t remain on the same floor as the judge who called her into his office, attacked her in his chambers, and then continued to harass her. “I had a fear of walking out into the hall and running – running into him,” she testified.

Feeling outraged yet? Even without Ty Clevenger’s assertion that there are more witnesses out there, I’d bet a week’s salary that this woman wasn’t the only one Judge Smith harassed. No one believed her when she first reported it, he got away with it for 18 years, and he clearly still doesn’t get it. The odds that he’s a serial offender are off the charts. And hey, unless Congress takes action, he gets to enjoy a $200K-a-year retirement on your dime. Is this a great country or what?

The phony “bathroom” issue

I am so tired of this.

HoustonUnites

Although Houston’s 36-page equal rights ordinance makes no mention of public restrooms, access to restrooms has become the focus of a raging public debate with the law set to go before voters on election day.

Opponents of the ordinance, largely conservative Christians, have flooded radio and TV with ads saying the law gives men dressed in women’s clothing, including sexual predators, the ability to enter a woman’s restroom. On Tuesday, the group released a TV spot that closes with a man bursting into a stall occupied by a young girl.

Supporters of the law, however, said the ordinance would in no way protect predators, pointing to a longstanding city law that bars someone from entering a restroom of the opposite sex with the intent to “cause a disturbance.” Legal experts agree the equal rights ordinance does not offer any protections to those who commit crimes, such as the oft-cited example of sexual assault, in a bathroom or any other place.

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer said the law does not mean someone can enter a bathroom with the intent to commit a crime, regardless of gender.

“It’s a phony issue,” Linzer said. “If you commit a crime in a bathroom, you’re going to be prosecuted, and HERO is not a defense.”

[…]

Mayor Annise Parker pushed back this week on the idea that the ordinance in any way presents a public safety threat. The law is intended to protect someone’s consistent gender identity, not someone seeking to illegally gain access to a restroom.

“Two-hundred cities, 17 states have the same ordinance that we do or very similar wording that we do,” Parker said. “This just doesn’t happen. It is illegal for a sexual predator to go into a women’s restroom and attack anyone, and the idea that somehow the city of Houston is giving them free license is so offensive.”

Supporters of the ordinance have also questioned the authority of opponents on the issue of sexual conduct, given allegations against one of the group’s leaders.

That of course would be Kendall Baker, who is unironically out there warning people about perverts. I’m tired of talking about the lying and the lying liars who have been doing all this lying, so let’s talk a little about the truth. Here’s some truth about sexual assault from someone who’s spent a lifetime helping people who have been victims of it.

The talking point continues to be one of the most popular right-wing attacks on LGBT non-discrimination laws, and HERO’s opponents have used it relentlessly to weaken support for the measure among women and parents.

But in May 2014, during a public hearing before the Houston city council, HERO supporters gained a powerful voice in their fight against the “bathroom predator” talking point: Cassandra Thomas.

Thomas has spent thirty-one years at the Houston Area’s Women Center (HAWC), an organization dedicated to helping individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence. Aside from serving as HAWC’s Chief Compliance Officer, Thomas is also a member of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center Board and sits on the editorial board of the Sexual Assault Report of the Civic Research Center. She’s won numerous awards for her work on domestic and sexual violence, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Testifying before the city council, Thomas drew on her decades of experience to dismiss opponents’ fearmongering. “If you really want to stop sexual assault,” Thomas said, “then let’s cut out the scare tactics, and let’s speak the truth.”

[…]

The problem with the “bathroom predator” talking point, she explained, is that it fundamentally misunderstands how and why sexual assault occurs.

“Transgender people are not my bogeyman in the closet. My bogeyman in the closet is the man who is a rapist who has a position of power, that everyone thinks, because he has power or because he’s nice or because he’s white or because any of those stupid reasons, that ‘I’m safe from him.’ That is my biggest fear.”

Thomas’ position has been echoed by sexual assault experts in states and cities with similar LGBT non-discrimination policies, and it’s supported by research. Sexual assault is overwhelmingly carried out by people victims know and trust — family members or friends, religious and community leaders, etc. — and not random predators who pretend to be transgender.

“It puts a bogeyman face on a group of people who don’t deserve it at all, who are, by no account, through what we know, are dangers,” she added.

Stereotypical images of shady-looking men sneaking into women’s restrooms — which have become a centerpiece of the anti-HERO campaign — give women a “false sense of security,” Thomas explained. “It makes women think that there are only certain places and certain people that I have to be afraid of and that’s not true. We don’t know what rapists look like. There’s no big R on their forehead. And that misinformation sets women up to be injured.”

When asked about why opponents of HERO had latched on to the “bathroom predator” talking point, Thomas dismissed the idea that HERO’s opponents were seriously motivated by a concern for women’s safety. “If it was about women’s safety then these same people would be involved in the anti-violence movement from the start,” she said.

“If these same people were concerned about the safety of women, they would have come out against any number of issues that have come up about sexual violence over the years, but they have been remarkably silent. So all of a sudden women are in danger because of transgender people? No. They’re not.”

Amen.

Ethics investigator clears Farenthold

Some good news for a controversial Congressman.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Ethics investigators struck a blow Monday to an ex-House staffer’s sexual harassment claims against Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, nine months after the fired communications director filed suit in District of Columbia court.

The Office of Congressional Ethics did not find substantial reason to believe Farenthold, 53, sexually harassed Lauren Greene, discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, or retaliated against her for complaining about the alleged unlawful treatment. In accordance with public disclosure rules, the House Ethics Committee shared OCE’s findings and announced it had not yet completed its own review of the matter.

Attorneys from another House entity, the Office of House Employment, are defending Farenthold against Greene’s accusations that the congressman discussed “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her with another one of his employees. Farenthold’s office has admitted the former talk radio host occasionally complimented Greene on her appearance, but denied making improper advances.

“Due to the ongoing nature of the lawsuit, the Committee has not yet been able to complete its review of the matter and therefore is not in a position to dismiss the matter at this time,” Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., said in a joint statement. “The Committee will continue its review and ultimately will take any additional action it deems necessary, consistent with the House and Committee rules.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the OCE’s report. This is as good a result as Farenthold could have wanted, though there’s still the lawsuit and the House Ethics Committee investigation to get through; as the Trib notes, the Committee didn’t concur with the OCE report, so he’s not out of the woods just yet. Whether it dampens any Democratic interest in his seat, assuming that was a thing in the first place, remains to be seen. The Hill, Politico, the WaPo, and the Chron have more.

Farenthold replies to the lawsuit against his office

Here we go.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, has formally denied a former employee’s claims that he sexually harassed and discriminated against her. Instead, he fired the staffer for “poor performance and failure to report to work,” his legal team said in federal court filings Thursday.

Lauren Greene, Farenthold’s former communications director, alleges “gender discrimination and creating a hostile work environment” in a wrongful termination suit filed in December against the second-term congressman. Greene worked for Farenthold from February 2013 until she was fired in July 2014.

In his response to Greene’s suit, Farenthold denied that he directed a bevy of sexually charged comments at Greene.

“Defendant denies that Rep. Farenthold was ‘attracted to’ Plaintiff, that he had ‘sexual fantasies’ about Plaintiff, or that he had ‘wet dreams’ about Plaintiff,” the filing said

I’ll bet that’ll make his mama proud. See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of Farenthold’s response. My interest in this lawsuit is entirely prurient. Farenthold is basically furniture, so this lawsuit will easily be the most notable thing about his tenure in Congress, regardless of the outcome. TPM, Juanita, and Texas Politics have more.

The Farenthold files

The Farenthold lawsuit continues to have promise as the underrated scandal of the year.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

In his first interview since the suit was filed in December, [Rep. Blake] Farenthold said he was shocked by the allegations made by Lauren Greene, the former staffer.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I didn’t imagine us having any problems in the office. And the things she alleges are just so far out in left field. I’m just stunned.”

Farenthold suggested that the suit could be reprisal for Greene’s termination.

“Somebody gets fired, you never can tell how they’re going to take it,” he said.

Congressional lawyers, who are handling the case, have asked him not to discuss the grounds for Greene’s dismissal. Farenthold will say only that he “had good reason.”

[…]

Greene’s suit focuses mainly on her alleged mistreatment at the hands of Farenthold’s top staffer, Bob Haueter, with whom she apparently had a difficult relationship. There are no allegations that Farenthold touched or tried to hit on Greene – on the contrary, she said he tried to avoid her, a situation that she found “awkward.”

Instead, in her lawsuit she recounts feeling “awkward” after another staffer, executive assistant Emily Wilkes, allegedly told her that Farenthold had confided in Wilkes and Haueter about his attraction to Greene.

Greene also alleges that the congressman regularly made comments about her appearance or made other remarks that she thought were designed to gauge whether she was interested in a sexual relationship. She also claims that staffers who accompanied Farenthold to Capitol Hill functions joked that they had to be on “redhead patrol” to keep him out of trouble.

Friends and associates say a certain off-the-cuff personality can easily be misinterpreted.

“Sometimes you can make a comment that you think is totally innocent, and it gets misconstrued,” said Mike Pusley, a Republican leader and Nueces County Commissioner. “From the times I’ve been around Blake in mixed company, I’ve never seen anything to indicate that he has any issues in that regard. When I read about those allegations, I just went, ‘Eh, man, I have a very hard time believing that.’ ”

See here for the background. All due respect, but if you want to check on the credibility of Ms. Greene’s allegations, you might do better to talk to someone who isn’t a) a dude; and b) a political ally of Farenthold’s. I mean, as a general matter we dudes aren’t always the most reliable sources for how women may interpret some of the things we say. Hell, entire industries are built on that fact. Might have been a better idea to ask a few women who regularly deal with Rep. Farenthold, off the record as needed, what they think of his demeanor. It wouldn’t anything definitive, but it might at least provide a little perspective. I’m just saying. And may I just add that I encourage Rep. Farenthold to speak as freely as he likes about this ongoing litigation. Forget what the lawyers say, Blake! They’re all just a bunch of killjoys. Speak your mind and let the chips fall where they may!

Lawsuit filed against the office of Rep. Blake Farenthold

Um, wow.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

A woman who worked for U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold filed a federal lawsuit against his congressional office, alleging she experienced gender-based discrimination and that a hostile work environment prompted her termination in July.

Former Communications Director Lauren Greene alleges that Farenthold, the two-term Republican from Corpus Christi, made lewd and inappropriate comments, according to the lawsuit filed Friday, and “regularly drank to excess, and because of his tendency to flirt, the staffers who accompanied him to Capitol Hill functions would joke that they had to be on ‘red head patrol’ to keep him out of trouble.’”

[…]

Greene worked for U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, R-Oklahoma, from September 2009 to January 2013, according to her Linkedin profile, and worked her way up from an intern to deputy press secretary. She took a job with Farenthold’s office two months later.

In January, another staffer told Greene that Farenthold had privately admitted to having sexual fantasies about her, according to the lawsuit, which adds that Farenthold later told Greene that he was estranged from his wife.

“On one occasion, prior to February 2014, during a staff meeting at which plaintiff was in attendance, Farenthold disclosed that a female lobbyist had propositioned him for a ‘threesome,’” according to the lawsuit.

The comments made Greene uncomfortable, according to the lawsuit, and she seldom had one-on-one meetings with Farenthold.

“Farenthold regularly made comments designed to gauge whether plaintiff was interested in a sexual relationship,” according to the lawsuit, and made inappropriate comments about her clothing.

Greene also had problems with Chief of Staff Bob Haueter.

Haueter excluded her from staff meetings and publicly humiliated her when she did attend, according to the lawsuit.

During a June 2010 meeting, Haueter announced he was sending Greene home to change because her shirt was too revealing, according to the lawsuit, but Farenthold and another staffer disagreed.

In the lawsuit, Greene alleged that she was fired less than a month after complaining about the hostile work environment.

Ew. This is only one side of the story, and I’m sure that the defense will have plenty to say about what happened. But still: Ew. More worrisome for Farenthold is that the filing of this lawsuit has spawned other problems for him.

The unseemly nature of the accusations already has operatives on Capitol Hill mulling the immediate consequences of Farenthold’s place on the Republican food chain.

“I don’t know about locally, but it’s going to continue to push him on the outside of leadership and the folks that influence the Republican Conference,” a GOP Capitol Hill staffer said on condition of anonymity because of close ties to leadership.

Two GOP Capitol Hill staffers predicted the matter would probably go before the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics. Just last week, the House Ethics Committee cleared a Florida Democratic lawmaker of sexual harassment allegations. But in the process, the committee warned lawmakers “to scrupulously avoid even the impression of a workplace tainted by sexism.”

[…]

As Texas Republican operatives digest the reports, some are already speculating on a potential 2016 primary challenger. One potential rival would be Debra Medina, a former Wharton County Republican Party chair who lost a primary bid for comptroller this year.

Getting a little ahead of ourselves there, but still. The next two years are likely to be a bit tumultuous for Farenthold, poor baby. The Chron covered this here, and Politico, Jezebel, BOR, Trail Blazers, TPM, and Juanita have more.

Interim DPS director retiring

What the hell is going on at the Department of Public Safety?

he director of the Texas Department of Public Safety is resigning amid allegations that he touched women at the agency in an unprofessional way, “demonstratively” blew kisses to one and called a veteran employee “his girl.”

Col. Stanley Clark’s resignation is effective May 31, but he will no longer be performing any duties at DPS, according to a spokeswoman.

Clark, 60, has led the agency since becoming interim director in September. He succeeded Col. Tommy Davis, who retired in the wake of a fire that severely damaged the Governor’s Mansion on DPS’ watch.

“This is an elite law enforcement agency. We expect all our employees to demonstrate the highest degree of professionalism,” Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Texas Public Safety Commission, said in a statement. “The director must set the example for all employees in their workplace communications.

“Col. Clark has acknowledged his failure to adhere to those high standards and has chosen to retire at the end of this month,” Polunsky said. “We are disappointed by this matter, and we are committed to moving on in our search for a director.”

The story has more details; it’s all very creepy. This guy was there on a temporary basis after the last guy was apparently forced out over DPS’ failures to prevent or apprehend the person responsible for the fire that damaged the Governor’s mansion in 2007. All I can say is I hope whoever they find via that national search knows what he or she is getting into. Grits has more.