Question: When does a sexually-charged incident obligate an elected legislator to resign?
Answer: When one or more of the following is true:
- When the legislator has been found guilty of a sex-related offense in a court of law ( or guilty of any crime, since law-makers must no be law-breakers.)
- When the incident indicates a bigoted and disrespectful attitude toward women.
- When the incident makes the legislator’s necessary status as a role model to children and others impossible to sustain,
- When the incident embarrasses the legislative body and calls its competence, integrity and trustworthiness into disrepute.
- When the incident calls into question the legislator’s judgment and trustworthiness.
With these standards in mind, let us examine the recent plights of two legislators, one Republican, and one Democrat. First, the Republican:
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.)
Farenthold, a tea party stalwart, is being sued by Lauren Greene, who was fired as his communications director. She alleges a classic “hostile work environment” scenario with all the trimmings:
1. She says, in the lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court, that he frequently made sexual comments to her and about her to others,
2. That was often drunk, 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” so he would not get in trouble,
3. That his executive assistant, Emily Wilkes told her “that Farenthold had admitted to being attracted to Plaintiff and to having ‘sexual fantasies’ and ‘wet dreams’ about Plaintiff.”
4. That Farenthold’s chief of staff, Bob Haueter threatened to once send her home because “he could see Plaintiff’s nipples through her shirt.”
5. That when she complained to the Congressman, he told her to “stand up for herself.” [HAR!!!]
She says she was fired a month later. If these, or even a couple of them, (#3 might do it all by its lonesome) can be verified, yup, I’d say she has a winning lawsuit there. That’s what the accumulated law would call sexual harassment, of the sort that, in the EEOC’s words, “is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
But wait! There’s more!
It also was revealed this week that Farenthold was the long-time owner of a Web site domain name which he apparently registered in 1999 as an, er, investment of the cyber-squatting nature…or, perhaps he was going to use it himself if the Dignified Member of Congress thing didn’t pan out.
The address is “www.blow-me.org.” Yes, he’s one classy guy, and his constituents must be so very proud. Then again, they elected him despite several photos like this that circulated when he was running….
…so they can scarcely say they weren’t warned. Yes, I’d say Farenthold, at this point, falls short of the resignation line. I think some kinds of cyber-squatting are unethical (like if you bought Jackmarshall.com), and owning porn sites is hardly ennobling, but unless he loses that lawsuit and the allegations are proven, he’s not a lot more embarrassing now than he was to begin with. And really, what’s the matter with duck pajamas in one’s past? If he appeared in public now in those duds, I think he’d risk crossing the line.
Now on to the Democrats, and
Joe Morrissey, Virginia Delegate (D)
To get right to the meat of the matter, Delegate Morrissey is in jail. He avoids, technically, at least, #1 above, because he wasn’t found guilty in a criminal matter and didn’t plead guilty: Virginia allows the so-called Alford Plea instead of the usual “guilty,” which means, “I know I’m going to be found guilty on the evidence, but I still think say I’m innocent and I’m sticking to that story, so there.” Morrissey pled to the lesser charge, a misdemeanor, of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.The Democrat from the 74th District had been charged with felonies, including child porn, that grew out of his relationship with a 17-year-old receptionist—a minor, in Virginia— in his law office. If convicted of all charges, he was facing 41 years in prison.
Admittedly, his dalliances with his receptionist were at the far end of statutory rape, but the law is the law. The evidence against him includes text messages from the alleged victim sent to her friend saying, “OMG so much I have to tell you but the most important thing is!!! I just fucked my boss tonight in our office on the desk and on the floor.” Morrissey’s friend was prepared to testify that he had received a text from Morrissey saying, “Hey, buddy I just fucked her on my conference table and again on the floor for good measure!” Morrissey then sent that same friend a nude photo of the young woman, hence the child porn charge. Morrissey had more than a dozen nude or semi-nude photos of his receptionist on his iPhone, but none showing him in duckie pjs.
Since Morrissey’s negotiated jail time is going to be over in 90 days, he had said that he was considering commuting to work (the conditions of his sentence allowed periodic release, with him wearing a monitoring device), and was not going to resign.
That’s not going to fly: he’s well over the line. Being sent to jail is enough; the slimy messages are enough, and the whole thing falls short of the minimum level of dignified conduct and deportment an elected legislator must be expected to meet. A Delegate attending meetings and voting on laws while wearing an ankle bracelet holds the state, the legislature and his distinct up to ridicule. He should resign, and check and see if Farenthold will sell him that web address cheap.
UPDATE: Faced with almost certain expulsion, Morrissey resigned today.
Bonus Quiz: Which of these stories the Washington Post gave most prominent coverage to?
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.