It was Politics 101. When you open a Pandora's box, you unleash horrors on Republicans and Democrats alike. In this case, there was no telling where a full hearing on the sexual harassment allegations against House Speaker Kent Williams might have led. As Democratic leader Gary Odom made a point of noting, a precedent would have been set for the Ethics Committee to hear more such complaints against other lawmakers. He didn't need to remind anyone that the legislature's not exactly known as a gender sensitive environment.
So even the six Republicans on the committee
joined the six Democrats in voting this afternoon to dismiss Rep. Brian Kelsey's
complaint. Covering your ass is definitely a bipartisan imperative. The committee, which includes GOP leader Jason Mumpower and caucus chair Glen Casada, also voted to develop a new sexual harassment policy for the legislature, apparently to clear up any confusion over how such complaints are handled. The main purpose of the current policy, which was hatched by House and Senate leaders a couple of weeks after Williams supposedly harassed Rep. Susan Lynn in 2007, seems to be to keep the public from ever finding out when a lawmaker is accused.
Perhaps to deflect criticism, the Republicans put forth a woman--Rep. Beth Harwell--to speak for their side today. Harwell said the case against Williams was closed two years ago, and it ought to stay that way.
"This was a two-year old incident," she said. "At the time, our leadership brought the parties involved together. An apology was offered. An apology was accepted, and the offended chose not to file a formal complaint. Now two years later, we're revisiting the issue. What comes out of this is that we need to have in place a better policy and procedure for sexual harassment. Can a third party bring a sexual harassment case? We need to address that. We need to address whether sexual harassment cases should be before a public forum. You need to protect the people who want to bring the cases. And you also need to protect the people who may in fact be proven innocent.
"I am sure that the Ethics Committee is not the appropriate place to examine sexual harassment cases. I think Representative Kelsey did what he thought was right, but I just think we have to be careful of going down the path of allowing third parties to bring sexual harassment cases."
Kelsey was apoplectic as usual:
"This is a mockery of ethics. This is worse than a fairy tale. In Alice in Wonderland, they had the verdict first and then the trial. This was worse than that. There was a verdict first and then no trial. The explanation that the Ethics Committee doesn't have jurisdiction over ethics is laughable. It's a tragedy. There's a victim here. This is the reason that women don't come forward on these claims. It's because people tend to blame the victim. That's exactly what's happening here. You have the perpetrator getting off scott free with no investigation. And yet where's the victim? She's left in the hospital."
Speaking of Lynn, she issued a statement:
"I was admitted to the hospital this morning for stress-related symptoms caused by the incident under discussion. After several tests were run, doctors confirmed it was indeed related to stress. I have released from the hospital, and I am not resting at home. I appreciate everyone's concern."
Update: A statement Lynn apparently
planned to release today if she had gotten the chance.
: Kent Williams reacts: "I am pleased that the Ethics Committee has completed its work and fully resolved this matter. It is time to turn our undivided attention to the serious challenges which we face. There are serious issues before us and we need serious people to join together to address them. We must get past the bickering and partisanship. The people of Tennessee expect and deserve our very best as we move forward to address these issues."