Kirsten Anderson, the former communication director for the Iowa Senate Republicans, is speaking out after winning $1.75 million in a sexual harassment lawsuit against them. In an interview Wednesday with Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich, Anderson expressed her disappointment with the Republicans’ response to her lawsuit.
“I don’t think we’re done yet,” Anderson said. “It is a tremendous disappointment to me to see that there has not been a thorough investigation, that we haven’t seen any of the results.”
Anderson renewed her criticism of Senate Republican leader Bill Dix for failing to thoroughly investigate her allegations following the jury verdict in her favor. Dix has repeatedly contended that Anderson was fired for poor work performance rather than her allegation that the Republican’s office was a toxic work environment due to sexual harassment. Anderson was fired in 2013 just hours after she filed the sexual harassment complaint against the Republicans.
Anderson said she publicly encountered Senator Dix a few months ago after the trial and confronted him. She asked if he was investigating the sexual harassment environment raised at the trial.
“I went up to him and I asked him what the status was of the investigation,” Anderson said. “And he said he couldn’t tell me because it was ongoing.” Anderson believes, “Iowans deserve to know what those results are.”
Anderson is skeptical that the Republicans are doing anything to eliminate the “the old boy’s club” environment that was exposed during the trial. Court testimony detailed how an Iowa Republican Senate government oversight analyst shared nude female photos, circulated a “hot chick report”, used the c-word in describing women and used racial slurs. The jury heard testimony that he teased women about their sex lives and called women “prudes” if they didn’t respond to his taunts. Many of Anderson’s fellow staffers confirmed her testimony during the trial. Yet Dix continued to retain this individual following the lawsuit and trial and allowed him to resign in mid-September.
Anderson is convinced nothing has changed and it remains business as usual with the Republican leadership, noting there’s been no task force or new training implemented.
Anderson didn’t limit her criticism to the male Republican leadership. She expressed disappointment in the lack of support she has received from other Republican women, including Governor Reynolds and Senator Ernst.
“Oh, it made me so pissed,” Anderson said. “I mean, these were people that, we had each other’s cell phone numbers in our cell phones. We talked off hours, we had meals together. We had experiences in caucus at 2 o’clock in the morning. It was a huge disappointment. I was hurt that I didn’t hear anything from Governor Reynolds and Senator Ernst. Truly.”
Nationally, it certainly seems the tolerance level for sexual harassment has changed dramatically. The Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment allegations exploded across the nation exposing similar charges from Hollywood to the political world. It appears yesterday’s charges against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore could sink his campaign. As victims continue to come forward it can no longer be simply dismissed as acceptable behavior. Sexual harassment victims deserve to be taken seriously and be supported rather than be ignored.
It appears Iowa Republican leaders still don’t get it. Anderson wants her experience to be a teachable moment. She wants to encourage others to speak up.
“What I want to do is support people going through it, showing them they can and should stand up for what’s right. They can and should draw the line. They can and should know their proper recourse, know their rights,” said Anderson.
Anderson cautioned other Republicans that they may a price for ignoring her warnings about the sexually toxic work environment she endured in her Republican statehouse job.
“Going through the experience, it was really hard. I felt like I would never work in politics again. And I loved it so much: Being a part of the political process, it’s just awe-inspiring. It was so neat to work in that building, seeing laws being made, history being made,” she said…The party’s let me down,” she said. “The party has changed as a whole over the last few years, which is not what I want to be a part of.”
No leader should accept a work environment that subjects employees to sexual harassment. No one should let Senator Bill Dix off for allowing this “old boy’s club” to exist and refusing to thoroughly investigate these serious accusations. He must be pushed to follow through and guarantee Iowans that Republicans won’t tolerate this behavior in their offices.
However, the mystery is how can Iowa’s first female Governor and Iowa’s first female United States Senator refuse to address this immediately. Don’t both Governor Reynolds and Senator Ernst have a special responsibility to protect other young women entering and working in politics. Anderson’s treatment by Republicans ended her love of politics and a promising political career. Reynolds and Ernst are doing Anderson and other women an injustice if they don’t speak up for Anderson’s courage and honesty in coming forward.
by Rick Smith