Staff Editorial

'Zero tolerance' bigger than partisanship

Iowa Sen. Nate Boulton answers a question at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Sen. Nate Boulton answers a question at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa Sen. Nate Boulton was right to end his bid for governor after allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. As a self-proclaimed champion of individual and worker rights, he should also have gathered the courage to depart the Statehouse.

Boulton’s inability to embody the values he professes has placed his partisan peers in an untenable position. Nonetheless, it must be made clear that no lawmaker’s bad behavior will be rewarded.

“Excessive drinking has no doubt led me to misread appropriate social boundaries and make choices that I would never tolerate while sober,” Boulton wrote as a part of a statement announcing his intention to return to the Iowa Senate, “humbled but determined.”

Investigation of complaints against a lawmaker are generally the purview of a bipartisan ethics committee. Each chamber has such a body, comprised of three lawmakers each from the majority and minority political parties, which receives complaints against lawmakers as well as Statehouse lobbyists and their clients. The committee has broad authority, ranging from dismissal of charges to ouster from office.

But specifics of the Boulton allegations make committee review unlikely.

The Senate Ethics Committee recognizes complaints received within three years of an incident. Only one of the allegations against Boulton falls within that time period, having reportedly taken place in November 2015 — before Boulton was a candidate for Senate, and more than a year before he was sworn into office.

There is no prohibition on review of actions before a person was elected to office, yet neither the House nor the Senate ethics committees ever have done so. It’s difficult to imagine a body of lawmakers willing to set such a precedent.

Ultimately, if Boulton decides to seek another term in the 2020 election, voters in District 16 will decide if past misconduct disqualifies him from office. While we believe a decision by voters in his district is ideal, inappropriate conduct must result in swift action. Forcing voters to wait more than two years to weigh in on Boulton’s behavior is unacceptable.

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Democratic leaders were right to call for his resignation. In a self-serving move, Boulton has refused. Now those leaders are duty bound to act.

At the very least, Boulton should lose his leadership role on the Labor and Business Relations committees.

We urge the Senate Democratic Caucus to immediately strip Boulton of all committee and commission assignments and deny him any appointments in January.

Democrats, long critical of Republicans’ lackluster response to sexual misconduct, cannot look the other way when bad behavior emerges in their own ranks. All Iowa politicians must stand behind their calls for zero tolerance.

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

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