Monday, August 22, 2016

Fraternity attitude in state capitals shows in sexual harassment cases against male lawmakers

They hold state office, but state legislators, especially House members, are locally elected from small districts. And for some of them, going to the state capital seems like going to a party without their spouses or significant others. A growing number of them are being accused of sexual harassment, Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert report for The Tennessean. It's an issue that isn't specific to one party or one region, but that is a source of national concern of men in state capitals misusing their positions of power. With the story is a list of 12 other states with recent sexual-misconduct cases.

One problem is that "most legislatures are largely male, part-time and require members to travel away from home, creating a fraternity atmosphere," Boucher and Ebert write. Another problem is that "women make up less than a quarter of all state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That puts many female lobbyists, staffers and interns at the professional and political mercy of mainly male lawmakers." (USA Today graphic)

In Tennessee, for example, 110 of 132 lawmakers are men, Boucher and Ebert write. That disparity, along with a long-standing fraternity attitude and a belief that male lawmakers are untouchable and females are expected to put up with unwanted advances, has led to the current problems. A state attorney general report of Rep. Jeremy Durham, a Tennessee Republican who was said to have preyed on 22 women, states, "The lobbyists pereception that they could not complain about Rep. Durham's inappropriate behavior in not without support. For example, a senior male lobbyist expressed his view during an interview that enduring a legislator's sexual advances is merely part of a female lobbyist's job."

Sen. Frank Niceley, a Republican from Knoxville, told the reporters that "Tennessee's Capitol Hill culture dates back more than 200 years, when wives and children were sent away from Nashville during the annual legislative session," they write. He said "when he started serving at the Legislature in the 1980s, there was little ethical oversight. He told The Tennessean, “The lobbyists were handing out credit cards and staying out all night." Another Tennessee politician, Democrat Douglas Henry, the longest serving state lawmaker, who served in the Legislature from 1954 to 1956 and again from 1970 to 2014, said, “Women make good lobbyists because they get a man’s attention and hold it." (Read more)

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