Two Democratic lawmakers in the Texas Senate face calls to resign, amid allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.
An exposé written by the Daily Beast, details first-hand accounts of sexual misconduct pointing to Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, and Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.
The leader of left-leaning Annie’s List, a powerful progressive organizing group in Texas, has called for the resignation of Miles and Uresti. “The first thing to break the cycle is acknowledging that sexual harassment and assault goes on at the state capitol,” executive director Patsy Woods Martin said.
“My team and I spend our time going around the state recruiting women to run for office they can serve the people of their communities,” she said. “And when we are asking them to serve in a workplace that is not safe and healthy for them, that seems to be counter-intuitive.”
Miles responded to the allegations through a spokesperson on Thursday night.
“Because I’ve shown myself to be an effective voice of the people, I have made powerful enemies who will go to any length to destroy and disrupt my service,” Miles said, defending his more-than 10 years between House District 146 and Senate District 13.
“I will not continue to address anonymous accusations that attack my personal and professional character as an effective lawmaker,” he stated.
“Sexual harassment is a serious offense and I plan to join my colleagues in the Senate in developing policy that allows all people due process and assurances they may work effectively in a fair and safe environment,” Miles continued. “The people expect me to do my best and I will continue to fight for them until they decide otherwise. I will not be deterred.”
Uresti, too, responded to a request for comment. A spokesperson included a photo of Uresti and his wife out to dinner on the night questioned by an anonymous accuser.
“I respect the work of Annie’s List, and the good work that they do in electing progressive women to elected positions in this state,” Uresti said, adding that the anonymity of the accusations prevents him from “being able to defend myself from completely unfounded innuendo.”
Uresti addressed a specific allegation involving being seen out with a “beautiful woman.” Uresti said that was his wife, Lleanna, whom he married in June 2012.
“We then sent the Daily Beast the photograph from that night of my wife Lleanna and I together celebrating the beginning of her first legislative session as my wife,” Uresti added.
“I know that sexual harassment has no place in the Capitol or in any other workplace,” Uresti continued. “I believe the recent media exposure of improper conduct in the workplace with respect to media executives, news personalities and Washington politicians is both proper and constructive. In this vein, I will be joining my colleagues to implement a comprehensive sexual harassment policy and trainings in the Texas Senate as soon as possible.”
Martin said it “hurt a little bit,” to ask lawmakers who support Democratic ideals to step down, but added that this “goes beyond politics.”
“This is about guys not only voting right, but living progressive values, and that is what we are asking for,” she stated.
Both chambers are in the process of establishing working groups to review the state’s policies for reporting and reacting to sexual harassment claims.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a statement, stating that he had spoken to Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, whom he tapped to lead the Senate’s prevention training and reporting procedures in regards to sexual harassment claims.
“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said through a spokesperson. “I know [Kolkhorst] has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior.”
Sen. Kolkhorst set a hearing to address sexual harassment for Dec. 14.
“The Texas Senate takes the issue of workplace safety seriously which is why the Committee on Administration intends to review the sexual harassment policy we have had in place for many years,” Kolkhorst said in an advisory. “The committee is committed to ensuring a safe workplace for all members and employees of the Texas Senate. Any form of harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, has called for independent investigations of sexual assault and harassment. She sent a letter to Kolkhorst outlining her position, which she posted to Twitter.
The executive director for the Texas Democratic Party issued a statement on Thursday afternoon, calling for “policy reform.”
“My team, myself and so many of my colleagues have experienced the hostile and vile culture towards women,” Crystal K. Perkins said. “From Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to the pink dome of the Texas Capitol, the system is designed to protect the interests of the powerful, not serve justice for victims.”
“We will continue to monitor the newfound conversation on sexual harassment policies in the Texas Legislature and look forward to much more leadership from our elected leaders in both parties,” she said, in part.
We reached out to the offices of five additional senators, both male and female, four of whom responded by publishing time. One declined to comment.
Reporter’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect a statement by Sen. Kolkhorst and the announcement of a Dec. 14 hearing to address sexual harassment.