It is not often in Iowa news cycles you see a politician completely melt down in such a way that Republican Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix did this past week. The sexual harassment scandal, trial and settlement in the Senate had already dominated Iowa headlines for months, but Dix found inventive new ways this week to make himself and Senate Republicans look unimaginably worse on the issue.
First, Dix announced their internal investigation into sexual harassment in their office was over, but that no information would be made public. Governor Kim Reynolds and Speaker Linda Upmeyer publicly disagreed with that move. Then Dix announced the Senate Republicans were delaying the hiring of a human resource director to handle sexual harassment issues in the Statehouse in favor of an outside counsel, which he had no details on yet. Upmeyer said the House would go forward with the H.R. hire. Much of this was discussed by Dix in a bumbling, disastrous press conference (that he called), as well as a later botched interview with a conservative radio host.
Plenty of people have weighed in over the past several months on the moral outrage side of the matter – and I fully agree with how ridiculous and disgusting the reported harassment was and the lack of accountability on it. But I’d like to talk briefly about the political aspect of this. Specifically, on how Bill Dix, who engineered his takeover of the Senate Republicans before he was even sworn into office and then led the caucus to a blowout victory last November, is somehow also the biggest idiot in Iowa politics.
Seriously, could you imagine how someone could handle this situation more poorly than Dix has? The ineptitude here is so incredible, it’s nearly beyond belief. Is Bill Dix a secret sleeper agent for Democrats? Is he so bored with his large majority that he’s trying to earn extra difficulty points by making his members’ reelections harder? Has Mike Gronstal taken up mind control as a hobby since leaving office and is influencing his replacement from afar?
To this day, Dix still insists that Kirsten Anderson was fired for work performance issues. There is not a single person in this state that believes that she just so happened to get fired for poor work issues mere hours after complaining about workplace sexual harassment. I could maybe see sticking to that story while the legal process is ongoing, but it’s done now. Give it up. It makes people doubt anything else that Dix is saying is truthful or straightforward.
If that wasn’t enough, his insistence on keeping their internal review completely secret blew up in their face this week. He clearly hadn’t thought through the decision much, either, or at least he hadn’t prepared for how to explain it. Take a look at how he responded to conservative radio host Simon Conway questioning why Dix couldn’t release any information and see if it even makes sense to you:
“Right now, the reason I’m hesitating, in all candor, is really for the same reason this issue is so important and should remain so vitally important, and that is ensuring employees that they have the expectation of a safe work environment,” Dix said. “And that investigation in my opinion took place with the staff having the belief that their comments were going to be kept in confidence. So until I can feel like that is not the case, it would be irresponsible of me and really not recognizing the value of the privacy of our employees who are in good faith offering information that should help us become better at addressing this issue going forward.”
In the same interview he said that the review (which he admitted in his press conference that he either didn’t listen to or read) found that there were no other incidents after the ones that Anderson experienced. That doesn’t make sense. You can’t have it both ways. Who do they need to protect with anonymity if there were no other incidents? If all that happened was already brought out at the Anderson trial, then why are you insisting on secrecy now? You can’t say that you can’t release any information and then only describe the report as completely positive for you.
Dix seems to only dig himself a deeper hole the more he talks about the investigation, raising the question as to why he even is.
“I don’t have anything new to report, Simon,” Dix said on the radio show. “That’s it. I just don’t.”
Then why did he even agree to the Conway interview?
To believe all this, we have to trust Dix. That he’s doing the right thing behind the scenes. You know the fastest way to further kill off that credibility? Unilaterally blocking the hiring of a human resources official to deal with sexual harassment. That looks like further covering up of the problem, or at the very least an utter misunderstanding of the seriousness of the issue at hand.
Again, back on the political side of things, how on earth did Dix think that was going to play out? And what’s the benefit to him? On Conway’s show, Dix seemed to question the cost for an extra position… one extra staffing position in the Iowa Legislature, despite the fact that their handling of sexual harassment just cost the state this year $1.7 million. He’s willing to drag his entire caucus through this mess even more… why? Because he has an ideological opposition to a single staffer getting hired?
But here’s the real problem for Dix’s horrendous week: it should have been so much more positive for the Republican leader. In the past two weeks, Senate Republicans have announced top-tier recruits for Democratic-held swing districts. Shannon Latham, the daughter-in-law of former Congressman Tom Latham, will challenge Senator Amanda Ragan in the Mason City-based seat. Chris Cournoyer, a reserve sheriff’s deputy from LeClaire, will take on Rita Hart in the Davenport-based district.
They’re both women, which Dix could have used to show that they’re attempting to diversify their caucus and lift up promising female Republicans. That might have made fundraising calls for Dix easier as he tries to fill the Senate Republican coffers before session starts. Instead, Dix will be faced with awkward conversations as he hits up major donors this month and next.
Many have called for Dix’s resignation as leader over the scandal (and it seems powerful members of his leadership team are growing restless). At the end of the day, that probably won’t happen. Dix’s fundraising and political operation is responsible for a good chunk of his caucus being there in the first place. But his overall influence in the Statehouse and in Iowa Republican politics has almost certainly been weakened by all this. The only good thing for the GOP is that it has perhaps made Reynolds look good in comparison (ah, to be a fly on the wall when Reynolds and Dix meet next).
In his recent appearances with the press, Dix has pleaded his own personal innocence, insisting to Conway, “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve worked to solve this problem, shed light on the issue and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
“I’m a farmer,” he said at his press conference. “I don’t deal with human relations issues on a daily basis.”
The whole aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-farmer defense is, for one, insulting to farmers. But it also perfectly describes Dix’s failed leadership throughout this ordeal. Being a senator is a tough job. As is being the senate majority leader. Those things take skills beyond what Dix may think a simple farmer would possess. And if he can’t step up to those, then maybe he should head back to the farm.
by Pat Rynard