Susan Bruce: Harassment in the House

 

At the beginning of the legislative session in 2017, legislators were handed a copy of the official State House policy on sexual harassment. They were asked to read the policy, and sign a form saying they’d read it. They weren’t asked to surrender their guns or burn a U.S. flag. They were just asked to read the policy and sign a form saying they’d read it.

This proved to be a bridge too far for some of our doughty legislators. State Rep. John Burt brayed that it was “political correctness gone wrong.” I’ve had some experience with the kinds of things John Burt says to women. I’m not surprised he’s unwilling to sign. The same people who are refusing to sign a paper saying they’d received and read a policy are the same people who will sign any anti-tax or pro-gun pledge you put in front of them.

It will come as no surprise to learn that most of the refuseniks are men. Most of the Free Staters and Libertea types refused to sign, including the women of the Free State Project, Amanda Bouldin (D-Manchester), the Free Stater who runs as a Democrat and votes as a Republican was quoted in an early story as saying she felt she was treated with respect. Apparently the remarks made about her nipples by fellow Reps. Josh Moore (R-Merrimack) and Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry) in 2015 had slipped her mind. A more recent story reports that Bouldin has signed the form.

Reps. JR Hoell (R-Dunbarton) and Frank Sapareto (R-Derry) voted against making domestic violence a specific crime in New Hampshire and they both refused to sign the form saying they’d read the policy. There were some surprises in the category of those who signed. Free Stater Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont), who voted against the domestic violence bill, did sign the form.  Rep. Brian Stone (R-Northwood) was arrested in 2015 for violating a restraining order. The charge was dismissed. Rep. Stone did not sign the form indicating he had received and read the official State House policy on sexual harassment.

The entire Libertarian Caucus of the N.H. House signed the form: Caleb Dyer (L-Hillsborough), Joseph Stallcop (L-Cheshire) and Brandon Phinney (L-Stafford). With grim amusement, I note that Rep. Eric Schleien (R-Hudson) signed off on the policy, even before he was arrested for sexually assaulting a minor.

In Carroll County, all but one state rep. signed the form stating they’d read the policy. Surprisingly, Free Stater Ed Comeau (R-Brookfield) did sign the form. Not surprisingly, Lino Avellani (R-Sanbornville) did not. He was quoted in a Nov. 17 story at WMUR as saying, “I didn’t sign it. If I’m not going to act appropriately, I shouldn’t be there.” Rep. Avellani, it’s worth noting, has a very poor attendance record.

The policy itself is toothless. All policies relating to ethics in the Legislature are toothless. Senators and representatives are asked to sign conflict of interest forms and then may go on to vote on bills that benefit their businesses or investments. It’s a charade.

There have been 10 cases of harassment reported from 2015 to 2017. One involved a male state representative who touched a woman’s leg and told off-color jokes and invaded personal space. These are toothless policies. “The member may be expelled” is hardly a threat, since no one ever is.

In 2004, a State House secretary, Dorothy Pike, sued a legislator and the House for sexual harassment. She sued the House for not protecting her from the advances of then Rep. Ron Giordano (R-Salem). Giordano repeatedly groped her, tried to kiss her and called her at home to threaten her. When Pike brought the issue to the attention of her boss, the complaint was never investigated. Instead, they hired a security guard to follow her around and told Giordano to stop.

The Speaker of the House at the time was Gene Chandler, who claimed they were powerless to discipline Giordano because he was an elected official, not an employee. The jury awarded Pike $175,000 in damages and $130,000 in back pay. The House was ordered to pay 55 percent and Giordano the balance. Speaker Chandler said that he was disappointed and would appeal the verdict. Imagine how disappointed Dorothy Pike must have been to learn that the men she worked for had so little respect for her. The House finally settled up with Ms. Pike in 2005. As of that time, Giordano hadn’t paid a dime. After the trial, Chandler filed legislation to create a sexual harassment policy aimed at covering legislators.

Chandler will be Speaker again in 2018. The GOP caucus decided against supporting two of the candidates who, despite multiple terms in office, are unable to correctly frame a parliamentary inquiry. One hopes he keeps his copy of the harassment policy handy. In the era of Trump, it’s likely to get a workout.

Susan Bruce is a writer and talk radio personality on “The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen”  on WNHN-FM. She lives in Concord. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com or find the broadcast at www.wnhnfm.org.