Only taxpayers are being punished for Iowa Senate harassment debacle

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My daughters are interested in politics, for some reason. It wouldn’t surprise me if one or both consider applying to be a legislative page. Following in the old man’s footsteps.

I was proud to work at the Statehouse, both as a page and later as a journalist. But as a parent, do I really want my daughters to work in the “boys club?”

Do I want them fetching coffee and running errands in a place where it’s apparently no big deal for state senators and staff to comment on the length of their skirts or the size of their breasts, and where the c-words they’ll hear might not be “caucus” or “conference committee?” And if you have the guts to report lewd comments and harassment, they’ll show you the door, fast.

Sure, we’ve heard promises of “zero tolerance” frequently since a jury awarded former Iowa Senate Republican communications director Kirsten Anderson $2.2 million for the sexual harassment she endured and reported to her superiors in 2013. She was fired seven hours later.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, says his caucus has zero tolerance for harassment. Gov. Kim Reynolds agrees, and fully backs the majority leader.

And yet, all we’ve been seeing in the wake of this disgusting spectacle is tolerance and more tolerance. It’s contrition that’s registering a big, fat zero.

“Sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable,” Reynolds told reporters this past week. Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich deftly described the governor’s tone in delivering that message as being akin to what “she might use to suggest callers leave a message after the beep.”

Reynolds has said, repeatedly, she has “no control” over the Legislative Branch. True, but she is the governor of Iowa, with clout, power and a big bully pulpit. Instead, she’s letting the bullies off the hook.

Nobody has been fired. Dix, who sits in the chair where the buck stops, refuses to step down. These stunning developments have resulted in no leadership changes. And Dix continues to insist Anderson’s firing had nothing to do with her harassment complaint.

There’s talk of an internal investigation, headed by the secretary of the Senate, who serves at the pleasure of Republicans who run the joint. Reynolds suggested an independent investigation would be better, so Senate Republicans entered into a contract with the Department of Administrative Services to handle human resources duties. Whether the DAS is investigating anything is unknown, as is whether any findings will be shared with Iowans.

And on Thursday, lawyers in the attorney general’s office defending the Senate GOP filed a motion for a new trial, arguing the $2.2 million award is excessive and that jurors were “influenced by passion or prejudice” when they were told by Anderson’s attorney their verdict could “send a message.”

Only that jury truly understood zero tolerance. After hearing days of lurid testimony, they awarded Anderson far more damages than she sought.

As for Republicans in charge of the Senate, passion is sorely lacking, prejudice goes unpunished and the message they’ve sent is a resounding shrug, wrapped in lip service.

So far, the only people being punished in this sordid saga are Iowa taxpayers, who are on the hook for $2.2 million and for the cost of the new DAS human resources contract. These bucks will be squeezed from a state budget awash in red ink.

We can’t afford the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, but we’ll find a way to pay for the Senate Center for Inappropriate Conduct.

The party that once espoused personal responsibility is holding no one responsible. The party that often champions the idea of running government like a business has handled this case in a way that would be unacceptable in the private sector. Perhaps Iowa Republicans’ deep affinity for President Grabby has left them unable to muster the indignation needed to clean out the locker room. Sad.

Instead, the focus seems to be on doing the bare minimum necessary to weather the storm and control the political damage. The boys club remains unscathed and unrepentant. What a terrific message for our daughters.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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