Congress has become the latest focal point of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. John Conyers, in the unwanted, blinding spotlight while digging in his heels.
They, of course, are the only two publicly outed for alleged sexual misconduct– for now.
While some members of Congress are keeping quiet, Republican candidates in line for Congressman Raul Ruiz’s seat are making their voices heard.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has called for mandatory sexual harassment training for all house members and their staffs. As soon as this week, the House is likely to pass a bipartisan resolution mandating Ryan’s call to action.
Sexual harassment is nothing new. It’s been going on in secret for years, even decades. Some victims were paid “hush money” with taxpayer dollars to never speak of it while those guilty of harassment or worse went about their business as usual.
Members of both parties are imploring Congress to lift the shroud of secrecy and publicly release the names of lawmakers who have shelled out settlements using taxpayer money.
According to a Roll Call report, U.S. taxpayers paid out more than $900,000 in the most recent fiscal year to settle claims on Capitol Hill, the highest amount in 10 years.
That’s according to statistics released by the Office of Compliance (OOC), the independent congressional agency established under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act. The OOC reported that eight cases were settled for nearly $935,000 in fiscal 2017, which ended on Sept. 30.
In the OOC annual report on the state of the congressional workplace, harassment is one line item, which could include sexual and other types of hostile workplace harassment.
When Roll Call pulled the numbers from the last 10 fiscal years (2017 is not yet released), the highest number of harassment complaints came in fiscal 2011, with 113 cases out of a total of 333 — roughly a third of all complaints. Not all are necessarily sexual in nature.
To date, Democratic Congressman Ruiz has not spoken publicly about this issue. He has not returned phone calls or emails to either his Palm Desert or his Washington, D.C., office.
There are at least four known Republican candidates challenging Ruiz in the 2018 mid-term elections in the 36th Congressional District. They are Dan Ball, Doug Hassett, Kimberlin Brown Pelzer and Stephan Wolkowicz. Uken Report reached out to each for comment on the hotly debated issue.
In an email response, Ball, a former television reporter and Realtor, said, “If you are a serving member of Congress, man or woman, and you have admitted to, been found guilty of or agreed to a settlement regarding sexual misconduct, then you have abused your position and broken the public’s trust. You should resign, or Congress should vote to expel. Period.”
Brown Pelzer, a soap opera actress, who moved into the 36th Congressional District earlier this fall, has not responded to numerous and repeated requests for an interview. She did, however, post the following to her Twitter account on Nov. 21.
“Lawmakers need to release the names of our Congressional leaders that have settled sexual misconduct claims with OUR taxpayers dollars! Unacceptable! This must stop!”
For the first time since he announced his candidacy, Uken Report was able to connect with Wolkowicz, director of finance for Embassy Suites Palm Desert. He said he is “most definitely” a serious candidate.
“As a good Catholic and former altar boy, I want to hold politicians — Democrats and Republicans — and all public servants to that high standard,” Wolkowicz said. “If they did what they are accused of they should resign. We grew up taught to respect people — men and women.”
Asked if he thought President Trump should resign, he hesitated.
“I can’t answer that,” Wolkowicz said. “People of good conscience know the right thing to do.”
Doug Hassett, a La Quinta resident and businessman, said he has “thoughtfully and prayerfully” approached this topic. In an email response, which he also posted on his Facebook page, he recalled attending a Sunday church service to see friends, worship, listen to the message, and to receive a new pastor on his first day.
“He gave a great message on his first day, inspirational as you can imagine, but it also included these words which I’ll never forget,” Hassett wrote in his email. ‘If you are looking for a perfect man, a perfect pastor and a perfect church, you will not find them here. I am not a perfect man but I will do my best in my imperfection to be your pastor.’ He went on to say, ‘so if I can keep my zipper up and my wife can keep her panties on, we should be OK.’ His very blunt and honest perspective garnered my respect from that day forward.”
There you have it, the thought of sexual misconduct and the acting out of sexual misconduct exists at all levels and within all segments of society, Hassett said.
“Unfortunately our society and indeed our Congress and Senate are in part focused on zippers, panties and me, me, me,” he said “Some lawmakers have lowered the bar and we’ve been disappointed to say the least …. ”
Lawmakers in DC should be first and foremost about representing the voice of the people, Hassett said, reciting those famous words from the Gettysburg Address.
“… of the people, by the people and for the people,” Hassett said. “That’s what it’s all about. Instead, many men, including our lawmakers have made it all about my zipper, her panties and my self-aggrandizement. This of course leads to “unmet expectations” and disconnect between people and government.”
Forcing one’s sexual desires on another because of their power, position or fame, is despicable, deplorable and devious, Hassett said. For lawmakers in the federal government who have created a subset of laws to cover their indiscretions, there is a fourth “D:” Deceptive.
“The hard earned money “of the people,” paid in taxes “by the people”, should be spent in total “for the people” of the United States,” he said. “Lawmakers that spend our tax dollars to cover their indiscretions is proof that our leaders, not all, but some, have lost their prospective (sic) and moral compass. To add to that, if you are a leader who has used taxpayer dollars to cover your poor behavior, this is a misuse of taxpayer dollars, an abuse of the public trust, and you should resign. I am appalled, and in part this is why I’m running for Congress.”
California’s 36th Congressional includes some of the Coachella Valley’s wealthiest communities and some areas that are riddled with poverty. It is located in the southeastern portion of the state and includes most of Riverside County, including the area from Hemet to Blythe. It also includes the desert communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, Coachella, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells and Cathedral City.