State Senator Nate Boulton won’t have a lot to do this legislative session after being named to no committee spots this week, and it doesn’t really get any better for him from there. Boulton was left off Senate Democrats’ committee assignments for the 2019 session as part of the ongoing fallout from allegations of sexual misconduct that drove him from the gubernatorial race.
“I will defer making any committee assignments for Senator Boulton until the Senate Ethics Committee completes its ongoing investigation into the complaint filed against him,” Senate Democrats Leader Janet Petersen said in a statement.
Petersen had called on Boulton to resign earlier this year. While she can’t single-handedly force him out of an office he was elected to back in 2016, this move does up the pressure on Boulton’s future choices of whether he sticks around or runs for reelection. The vast majority of a senator in the minority party’s work during session happens in committee, so Boulton’s effectiveness for his district and own legislative priorities will take a hit.
The Senate Ethics Committee will at some point look into a complaint filed in November by Sharon Wegner, who was one of the women who accused Boulton of inappropriate behavior in a Des Moines Register story. Given Petersen’s statement, how that turns out could determine whether Boulton returns to any committees in the near-future.
Still, the bigger problem for Boulton is simply the continual stories that will result from the ethics investigation. Consider, there may be rounds of press coverage for every single one of these steps in the process:
- When the Ethics Committee announces they’ll hold a hearing/start their investigation, and what scope it will cover (just Wegner’s accusations or the entire Register story).
- When the committee actually meets and what they initially discuss.
- When the committee issues a report on the matter.
- When senators react to that decision and what they think Boulton should do at that point.
- When Boulton makes any decisions following the report.
There gets to be a point where you can only take so many TV stories where your picture and the words “sexual misconduct” are on screen next to you, and that’s what Boulton faces this year. His hope to ride out the lingering controversy from May gets much more complicated with the drip-drip news cycles around the process.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that the Ethics Committee ends up deciding not to take any serious action against Boulton. Indeed, if senators were to be removed from the chamber due to the kind of actions described in the Register story, you’d probably have to kick out half the members. It’s doubtful that even Democrats who have been particularly outspoken on the issue will want to go down that road.
But the bigger problem for Boulton is just getting through it all while a half-dozen news cycles on the matter pile up. And that’s even before potential primary challengers start to make real noise or announce a run. There’s certainly reasons to wonder whether East Siders are going to toss out a senator in a primary over sexual misconduct allegations, but the bigger question will eventually become whether Boulton can simply remain an effective senator for his district.
by Pat Rynard