Iowa Senate Republicans picked new leaders this week, following the departure of disgraced former majority leader Bill Dix.
GOP caucus members made status-quo picks during a Wednesday meeting, opting to promote two powerful members. Outgoing Senate President Jack Whitver, Ankeny, now is majority leader, while Sen. Charles Schneider, West Des Moines, is taking over for him as president.
Republicans are desperate to move on, but this is not the end of the Dix saga. The new leaders should get to work immediately repairing Iowans’ badly bruised trust in the Legislature, starting by incorporating the anti-harassment recommendations Dix asked for and then disregarded.
Several GOP leaders said they were “shocked” by a video that appears to show Dix kissing a lobbyist in a Des Moines bar, but their response is hard to believe. This sort of behavior helps explain why improving workplace professionalism wasn’t a top priority for Dix.
For many Iowans, the first thought upon hearing of Dix’s resignation was, what took so long?
Dix was leading the Senate Republican caucus in 2013 when staff member Kirsten Anderson was fired hours after complaining about sexism in the workplace. She later won a lawsuit and a $1.75 million settlement, payable with your tax dollars.
Dix later attempted to keep secret an internal report about sexual harassment, and failed to meaningfully take up advice from former Sen. Mary Kramer, who was asked to make recommendations.
As part of her report, Kramer wrote “there is nothing that has changed to prevent additional inappropriate behavior and ensuing problems.” This was five years after Anderson was fired, and five months after her lawsuit was decided.
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The Legislature hired a human resources director to manage anti-harassment education and hear complaints, but there is no sign Senate leaders have taken action on the rest of Kramer’s recommendations. Updating the Senate employee handbook to reflect those recommendations should be one of the new majority leader’s first priorities.
It’s worth remembering Whitver and Schneider were among the Republicans who quietly allowed Dix to remain in power, potentially putting staffers and young legislative assistants at risk.
Iowans are sick and tired of being embarrassed; we are ready for real change.
Electing new leadership is only the first step of an important process that should have started months ago. Recent history has shown no meaningful change will come without prodding and a watchful public eye.
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