Staff Columnist

What to do about Boulton, and others unknown

The Senate Chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Senate Chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowans know at least two male members of the current General Assembly have sexually harassed women, but they only have one name.

Sen. Nate Boulton, a first-term Democratic lawmaker representing a portion of Des Moines, ended his bid for governor days before the June primary election after three women told the Des Moines Register that he had touched them in a sexual manner without their consent. The most recent incident reported was in November 2015, roughly a year before Boulton was elected to his District 16 seat in the Iowa Senate. Although Democratic leaders in chamber called for Boulton to also resign his Senate seat, Boulton made no immediate announcement.

He is back in headlines because of a statement he released last Monday, apologizing for his past behavior, acknowledging a personal issue with binge drinking and indicating he would fulfill the remaining two years of his Senate term.

“It is my firm intention that nothing like this will happen ever again,” Boulton said, adding that he did not use alcohol in the aftermath of the allegations. “I hope and believe that passing that test is a good start to a better life.”

Boulton says he is “motivated” to be a role model for those in crisis, and that his “responsibilities” to constituents have not ended.

“The next step in my journey comes in January, as I return to serve in the Iowa Senate, humbled but determined,” he said.

It is difficult to imagine any scenario in which Boulton will be an effective representative for his constituents, but — as the Iowa Supreme Court recently made very clear — ouster of public officials for sexual harassment, workplace or otherwise, is the purview of the ballot box. As such, if Boulton seeks a return to the Senate or election to any other public office, I urge voters to rally around a candidate more worthy of their trust.

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On notice too is the Iowa Democratic Party and its various candidate support systems. The public is watching. Resources must be reserved for those who serve with honor; those who have not cast a shadow upon their office.

As sordid a tale as this is, voters do have the advantage of information. They know the allegations, the timeline and Boulton’s response. Above all else, they have the name of the lawmaker who stands accused of bad behavior.

Other Iowa voters aren’t as fortunate.

Responding to Boulton’s decision to remain in the Senate, Gov. Kim Reynolds expressed her disappointment.

“We need to lead by example,” Reynolds told reporters, adding that Democratic lawmakers “have an obligation to act” on known issues of sexual misconduct.

I agree, and encourage Reynolds to follow her own advice.

A nearly year-old report on sexual harassment in the Senate Republican Caucus remains redacted, effectively shielding a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct from public scrutiny. The document, dated Aug. 15, 2017, is the product of an internal investigation conducted by Senate Republican leaders. That investigation, in turn, was in response to a $1.75 million state settlement in a wrongful termination lawsuit in which a female GOP staffer said she was fired hours after filing an official complaint of sexual harassment.

For months, Senate leaders have declined to lead by example, and refused their obligation to act. Iowa voters, tasked with holding public officials accountable for sexual misconduct, cannot fulfill their obligation when basic, yet vital information like the legislator’s name is withheld.

State government has become awash in allegations of sexual misconduct. In addition to the aforementioned lawsuit, Reynolds abruptly fired the head of the Iowa Finance Authority within hours of receiving charges he engaged in workplace sexual harassment. More recently, an Iowa state trooper, who had been placed on paid administrative leave since last September, was fired for “intimidating, threatening and unwelcome” interactions with employees.

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Throughout it all, Reynolds has touted her administration’s “zero tolerance policy” on sexual misconduct, and reminded Iowans that sexual harassment “isn’t a partisan issue.” Such proclamations should have meaning.

Informed voters will decide Boulton’s fate and legacy. The same cannot be said of the state’s other known, yet unnamed legislator accused of sexual misconduct.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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