Public loses when politicians shield each other

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Senate Republican officials finally released the report from their internal investigation last week, but it has done little to assure Iowans the embarrassing sexual harassment scandal is being handled properly.

The report contradicts previous statements made by Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, and it raises serious concerns about the work environment inside the Statehouse. That environment cannot be improved if political leaders continue refusing to fully admit what problems exist.

Senators themselves have been heard making sexually suggestive comments, not just staff members as we previously learned, according to interviews with Senate Republican Caucus staff members. The report describes two incidents which seem to involve senators, though the names are redacted.

Politicians are protecting each other at the expense of public trust. Republican leaders hide behind flimsy excuses about employee privacy, but elected officials should expect no such privacy.

Iowans send lawmakers to Des Moines to represent us. When a lawmaker abuses that power, his or her voters deserve to know.

We also learned most staff members interviewed for the investigation who experienced harassment declined to name senators or colleagues, or to describe specific instances of harassment. Several staff members said they are unlikely to report future incidents because they fear retaliation.

Iowa taxpayers already are being forced to cover the costs of our politicians’ bad behavior. A former Senate staffer settled a lawsuit with the state for $1.7 million after jurors found that legislative leaders acted inappropriately when they fired her right after she complained about sexual harassment.

When Dix spoke with the media earlier this month, he insisted over and over again there had been no additional reports of sexual harassment in the Senate. The investigation report, though, details other examples, including some apparently involving elected officials.

Dix initially refused to reveal the report, but finally did so after other key Republican leaders called for its release. Even then, he chose to withhold fellow lawmakers’ names and release the investigation report on Friday after Thanksgiving, when online and TV news viewership plummets.

It was a disappointing series of stunts from a politician who has pledged openness and transparency at every opportunity.

One positive development is the appointment of former Ambassador Mary Kramer to serve as a volunteer human resources specialist. We’re hopeful meaningful improvements can be made for the coming legislative session.

Good government cannot happen under the conditions described by the Senate’s sexual harassment investigators, and the Republicans in charge right now have shown they’re unable or unwilling to respond appropriately.

To regain Iowans’ trust, Senate leaders must make good on their promises of being honest with the public.

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

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