Thursday, May 14, 2015

The John Diehl Fiasco Was Not An Isolated Incident

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl resigned today after getting caught sexting with a 19-year old intern.  However, I think it's important to note that, at least according to quite a few people who have worked in Jefferson City, this is not an outlier in the Missouri Legislature.  Since I haven't seen this anywhere else, I thought it might be helpful to collect some examples of public comments made about this.

First, just to show this isn't a recent development, here's what Senator McCaskill wrote about her time as an intern back in 1974:
“It was the first time I experienced moments of being very uncomfortable as a young woman surrounded by lots of men,” McCaskill writes. “There were inappropriate things said to me and inappropriate behaviors that made me very uneasy.”
Part of her gopher activities included running errands to the upper floors of the Capitol:
“One day I ended up in the elevator with two older male legislators and one of their assistants. They began asking if I liked ‘to party’ and then tried to get me to come to one of their offices for some drinks. I felt trapped. For the rest of the internship, I took the stairs.”
In 2009, State Senator Joan Bray gave an impassioned speech during a fillibuster that pissed off many of her Republican colleagues.  Here's an excerpt:
I am sick of the disrespect for women who come to the Capitol defending a woman's legal right to choose an abortion.
I am sick that they're being treated dismissively and rudely.
I'm sick of the ethic around here that men are pro-life for their wives and pro-choice for their girlfriends.
In response to the Diehl story, one woman I know who was previously an intern in Jefferson City wrote on Facebook that "today's news does not surprise me at all."  Another woman with first hand experience wrote that Missouri Republicans have, "zero respect shown for young women," and added that she heard a male Missouri legislator call Bray a "c#nt" during her filibuster, causing two other male legislators to laugh.

Another commenter on Facebook mentioned that Rich Chrismer, when he was a Missouri Representative, commented to her that he had a "very good sex life" (without specifying with whom).  Chrismer recently settled a sexual harrasment lawsuit filed by three former workers in his capacity as the elections director of St. Charles County.

Of course there's the sordid tale of Rod Jetton who plead guilty of assault after "he struck a woman in the face and choked her before and during sex at her Sikeston, Mo., home in November 2009." 

Read more here:
Tony Messenger, in an excellent editorial about the Diehl episode and the broader disaster of the Missouri Legislature, mentioned an incident in which Diehl's predecessor Scott Muschany was busted having an affair with a Mid-Missouri woman and accused of forcing her 14 year old daughter to inappropriately touch him (he was found not guilty of the crime). 

And, so you don't think this is only Democrats claiming that there's a problem, former Republican State Senator John Lamping had the following comments about the Diehl story in the Kansas City Star:
Former Missouri state Sen. John Lamping, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, said the texts suggest an unacceptable political environment in the state Capitol.
“This epitomizes the culture in Jeff City,” he said. “This is what happens. … This is a high-profile, apparently well-documented circumstance, but it is not an isolated incident. It is standard procedure. It’s remarkable.”
And Lamping later said the following on Mark Reardon's radio show:
This epitomizes the behavior down there [in the capitol] and it's a bipartison set of behavior...A lot of people get into office and are very comfortable with what their status will be, and then...there's too many people who don't just go back to their homes at the end of the session and they're out and about and circumstances like this happen and they happen far too frequently, certainly, more than they ever should.
A coalition of Missouri legislators also circulated a petition today stating the following:
Dozens of talented and hard-working young people serve as interns in the Missouri Capitol each year, and they play an important role in legislative operations.  We must ensure them a safe environment to work and learn free from the inappropriate attentions of elected officials.
With all of that smoke, I think we can be pretty sure there's a fire.  Hopefully, the Diehl incident provides the necessary spark to reform the frat culture of the Missouri Legislature.  People, even hypocritical Bible-thumpers, should be allowed to do whatever they want in their free time as long as they're not hurting anyone else.  But when they create an atmosphere that systematically demeans and devalues women, the situation needs to change.

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