When a fellow office-holder – especially a fellow member of a legislature or of Congress – gets into messy personal trouble, at least of the reaction from their colleagues of the same party has to be: Please go away. Just quit. Soon. It’s colleagues of the other party that would be happier to have them stick around.
Finessing this is never easy. Idaho senators had to deal with this in the case, last year and this, of (now-former) Senator John McGee of Caldwell, who last year had a strange drunken incident and this year was accused of sexual harassment. Under pressure from fellow Republican colleagues, he resigned before this year’s legislative session was done.
Now Oregon House Republicans have a Matt Wingard problem, and it too isn’t going to go away very quickly or easily – if, that is, Wingard stays in office.
The full story was reported by Willamette Week and won’t be recited in detail here. The core of it – not disputed by Wingard – is that he met the woman at a Christmas party in 2009; she joked he should hire her (as a legislative aide), and he did. Not long after, her legal allegation says, he began pressuring her to drink beer (she was 20, underage for alcohol), and they eventually had a sexual relationship. He says that was fully consensual, she says he pressured her into it. She eventually stopped coming to work, she said, but Wingard continued to pay her for some time anyway. (Wingard at least partly disputes that latter point.)
Regardless, the undisputed elements include delivering alcohol to someone underage, misusing the hiring function of a legislative office, and entering into an employer-subordinate sexual relationship. Wingard’s response in part included the line, “I believe that what two consenting adults do is their own business” – but the law recognizes that when one person in a relationship has power (such as hiring and firing) over another, there’s a real question about the nature of consent.
Wingard has been in Republican House leadership, and he simplified matters for his colleagues by relinquishing that job. But as long as he’s a legislator, this isn’t going away. In an election year in which Republicans and Democrats each hold 30 House seats, every one is precious. Including Wingard’s.Share on Facebook