Et Tu, #MeToo
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
ET TU, #METOO: Progressives of the 40th Legislative District were rocked to their foundations last week with news that one of the architects of revised policy on workplace conduct in Olympia may be the first felled by it.
As Associated Press and the Seattle Times reported, the state Senate is conducting an outside investigation into Sen. Kevin Ranker after allegations of improper conduct, the first test of the chamber’s new workplace policies adopted in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
In July, a Senate committee approved revised workplace policies based on recommendations by a bipartisan task force after the rise of the #MeToo movement. Under the new policy, once an investigation and any subsequent appeal is completed, a report will be released publicly if there is a finding of a violation of prohibited conduct.
Through a public-records request enabled by the new policy, Associated Press learned of a complaint filed in November by a former legislative assistant of Ranker related to sexual-harassment and hostile-workplace issues. The woman, who served as Ranker’s legislative assistant for a year nearly a decade ago, claimed she was subjected to hostile encounters involving the Orcas Island Democrat once she left to work as a legislative liaison for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Ranker told AP as soon as he learned of the report, he told the secretary of the Senate he would cooperate with the investigation.
“I believed an investigation was absolutely critical to ensure fairness for all involved,” he wrote in an email to the AP. He said he would not comment further while the investigation was underway, but he said he believes he will be exonerated.
Suffice it to say that he stands on a precipice, with a deepening understanding that his time in office and his career of representing the district in Olympia may be at an end.
His former legislative assistant—whose name is a matter of public record and need not be repeated here—first met Ranker when she worked as a clerk for the San Juan County where he served as a commissioner. They had an affair, before he recruited her to work with him in the Senate.
As she details in her complaint, their relationship deteriorated and became increasingly hostile. Ultimately she decided to leave the job.
She told AP that she began considering going public with her allegations against Ranker after a former coworker at the Department of Fish and Wildlife was convicted in January of breaking into her home and raping her. He was sentenced in March to more than 10 years in prison. After the trial, she said she was inspired by women who came forward during the #MeToo movement.
“I need to make it feel like it’s a safe environment without fear of retaliation,” she said. “I want women to know that there’s a process, that it’s a safe process.”
As the Times reported, the case is now poised to be an early test of Olympia’s new efforts to address its workplace culture. Women who have worked in the Capitol in recent years have expressed wariness about inappropriate conduct and whether the culture there has historically perpetuated harassment.
Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson told AP Senate policy prohibits him from offering additional information beyond the initial complaint. But he confirmed that under the new policy, the investigation would be the first in which he had the sole authority to conduct such an investigation or refer it to an external third party.
Ranker, too, supports the process and welcomes the opportunity to go on record with what occurred when the matter is convened. Yet for him, repercussions are already reverberating and support is falling away. He has received notification from progressive groups that they no longer want him to champion their legislation next session.
The principal ethos of the #MeToo movement is this: We listen to the victims of sexual harassment and workplace bullying. We believe what they say. And we do this as a means to introduce an orderly process that provides some greater justice and reform beyond the catharsis of telling one’s story of abuse.
And while each of those aspects are coming into focus for reform, it is the third leg of that stool that most urgently needs attention. For surely reprisals cannot be levied before the stories are heard and evidence is weighed, or there is no ultimate justice— people of conscience capable of reform are driven out, while those with passionate intensity who will not be driven out remain.
Ranker had an extra-marital affair. No one denies that, although—as always—accounts differ in the manner it was resolved. It was admitted to by all parties, and it has been known to their families—absorbed and responded to by them—for many years. The public is being drawn into the saga, and old wounds are reopened.
But the core of #MeToo is being respected. She is being listened to. She is believed. The man she accuses of inappropriate behavior is contrite and compliant to the review. A process toward resolution is underway.
But directly or indirectly, a progressive voice has been diminished, perhaps silenced.