Sexual harassment issue brought up on campaign trail
A Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, and a national women’s group supporting her are standing by social media postings that mischaracterized remarks he made at a congressional hearing.
Betsy Dirksen Londrigan’s Facebook post said in part, “Changing the culture around sexual harassment starts with leadership. Excluding women from the workforce is not an acceptable solution.”
The post highlighted a tweet from HuffPost Washington bureau chief Amanda Terkel from earlier that morning that said: “Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) says he’s worried congressional offices will hire fewer women to avoid issue of sexual harassment.”
Terkel’s tweet came as she covered a Tuesday hearing of the House Administration Committee to review sexual harassment reporting polices and procedures in the House. At the hearing, Davis said he has a female-led staff and had asked their opinions.
“They were concerned ... that an unintended consequence may be that some offices may just take a shortcut and not hire women as a way to avoid these issues,” Davis said at the hearing. “Obviously, that’s not the right approach.”
“How do we ensure that we use this moment to work toward true prevention of sexual harassment while also continuing to make Capitol Hill a place of opportunity for female professionals?” he asked at the hearing.
Terkel’s initial tweet prompted a quick response from Londrigan, who tweeted, “Really? Are you kidding me? Offensive and illegal. ... One more reason he has to go.”
And Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, an organization that backs pro-choice Democratic women for public office and has endorsed Londrigan, tweeted in part: “Excluding women from Congress is NOT how we should address sexual harassment. Let’s get this buffoon out and elect [Londrigan] instead.”
Terkel, of the HuffPost, noticed the social media pickup of the issue and came to Davis’ defense in other tweets that morning.
“For the record, Davis is not saying he will do this,” Terkel wrote. “He said he had female staffers who were concerned about this. That’s why he asked what to do about it.”
And, in another tweet, Terkel said: “Everyone chill out on Rep. Rodney Davis. He did not say he will hire fewer women to avoid sexual harassment. He asked how to prevent other offices from doing that.”
Londrigan’s Facebook post was “sponsored,” meaning, like a political ad, there was a payment involved to boost it to reach more people. It was posted a few minutes before Terkel’s tweets that said that Davis had not suggested not hiring women, but remained online Thursday afternoon.
Ashley Phelps, communications director for Davis, said the paid post insinuates that Davis wants to exclude women from the workforce, while, “in reality, he was saying the exact opposite at the hearing.”
Londrigan and EMILY’s List stuck by their statements Thursday.
“Women face harassment every day,” Londrigan said in a statement. “By using the platform of a congressional hearing to even suggest that fewer women would get hired as a result of coming forward, Davis’ words have a chilling effect. This comes as no surprise, coming from a Representative who has failed to stand up for equal pay and continues to vote against women’s interests when it comes to health care access, affordability and coverage by actively whipping votes for the Trumpcare bill in May. Congressman Davis has continuously cast votes against women that have a direct impact in the workplace and beyond.”
And Christina Reynolds, vice president for communications at EMILY’s List, said: “Instead of using the microphone to perpetuate a backward approach toward addressing harassment in the workplace, Rodney Davis should be proposing solutions.”
Phelps noted that the 12 of 19 members of Davis’ campaign and official staff are women, including his chief of staff, Jen Daulby, and his district director, Helen Albert.
“We are not treated differently than our male counterparts and have plenty of opportunities for promotions and [to] grow within our jobs,” Phelps said of working for Davis.
On Thursday, state Reps. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, and Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, as well as GOP attorney general candidate Erika Harold, called on Londrigan and EMILY’s list to apologize to Davis for spreading “false information” about him.
“I have worked for Congressman Davis, and I know that he is an advocate for women seeking public office and an advocate of having strong female leadership on staff,” Bourne said. “It is unfortunate that Betsy Dirksen Londrigan has decided to go down this path of personal and false attacks.”
Other candidates in the 13th District March Democratic primary are Dr. David Gill of Bloomington, attorney Erik Jones of Edwardsville, and Urbana resident Jon Ebel, a professor at the University of Illinois.