Iowa GOP's sexual harassment response is not 'open and transparent'

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Any hope that Iowa Senate Republican leaders learned a lesson from their sexual harassment scandal disappeared this week.

Iowa taxpayers already are on the hook for $1.7 million after a jury decided earlier this year that legislative leaders inappropriately fired a staffer when she complained about sexual harassment at work. The men presiding over the embarrassing ordeal are giving Iowans frighteningly little confidence that it won’t happen again.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, claimed during a news conference that his office has been “open and transparent” in response to the sexual harassment findings. However, he spent the next 30 minutes showing Iowans why that wasn’t true.

Dix started by telling reporters his office is postponing plans to hire a human resources specialist. Instead, he wants to seek advice from an outside consultant, although he had no idea how long that process would take, or how much it might cost.

Dix later admitted the Legislature’s anti-harassment education and training could be strengthened, but he didn’t come prepared with any details on how to do that among dozens of frequently changing staff in Des Moines.

Dix closed by refusing to explain why a member of his staff who perpetrated sexual harassment was allowed to keep working, even after the court delivered its findings. The meeting ended abruptly when journalists pressed the issue.

Maybe worst of all, Dix still is refusing to release findings from the internal investigation he ordered Iowa Senate staff to conduct. Dix’s rationale for keeping the investigation report away from public view is suspect, since he wasn’t sure that a report existed, then suggested he hadn’t read it.

What makes the secrecy even more frustrating is the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law earlier this year making public some other documents about state workers who are fired, demoted or resign.

The internal investigation is being kept secret, even though it was conducted by state employees, funded by taxpayers. That work belongs to the public, and we have a right to know what our government officials are doing at the Statehouse.

Dix claimed this week he’s keeping his fellow Senate Republicans updated about the sexual harassment case, but also said the caucus hasn’t conferenced since August. Fortunately, some other Republicans have taken much stronger stands on the ongoing scandal.

At least one Republican senator has called on Dix to resign his leadership post. Gov. Kim Reynolds said Senate Republicans should release their internal findings. And House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, announced shortly after Dix’s news conference that the Iowa House would go ahead with hiring a human resources professional.

Leaders in Dix’s position cannot succeed without the full confidence of their colleagues. It’s time for Dix to step aside, so the Iowa Senate can start moving forward.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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