What does it say about our state when an illicit kiss is considered more professionally disgraceful than failed leadership?
Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not sad about the decision by Senate Majority Bill Dix, a Shell Rock Republican, to resign from his leadership post and the Iowa General Assembly. I’m just wondering why his ouster took this long, and why his other expensive failures weren’t considered horrendous enough to force his resignation.
Last fall the state settled a wrongful termination lawsuit with former Senate Republican staff member Kirsten Anderson to the tune of $1.75 million. That settlement came out of the general fund — taxpayer dollars, not political coffers. The settlement followed a July 2017 court verdict for $2.2 million in which the GOP caucus was labeled a “toxic” workplace. Anderson, who worked in the Senate for five years, was fired in 2013 just hours after complaining about lewd and sexist behavior. During the trial, other staffers came forward with shocking reports of sexual harassment allowed to fester at the Statehouse.
A closed-door meeting of the GOP caucus was held following the court verdict, but no leadership changes resulted. Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, reported that his call for Dix to resign “was not received well” and that he left the meeting with ongoing concerns that “it’s business as usual in the Iowa Senate.”
Instead of ousting failed leadership that placed taxpayers on the hook, members of the GOP caucus announced an internal probe of sexual harassment despite the already public finding in a court of law. But Dix even botched that. He first attempted to keep the findings of the internal investigation secret. Then he called one of the most awkward news conferences in Iowa history, asserting he believed staff members who said they were sexually harassed but also flatly questioning the court’s verdict.
Dix dodged questions about why a staff member identified at trial as an egregious offender wasn’t fired. He couldn’t explain why he wanted to keep internal findings private. He said there were no new allegations, then admitted interview transcripts were still being made — and that he hadn’t read or listened to them anyway. When asked if there was a written report, Dix said there wasn’t, only to be corrected by the Senate secretary.
Despite the court verdict, despite collected evidence of sexual harassment, Dix was allowed to exit the Iowa Legislature this week while still calling the immediate victim of his failed leadership a liar.
And that has set a sad precedent. Already certain “rabid” Republicans are out to get the female lobbyist caught canoodling on video with Dix. “If it was a set up … it no longer matters. The sneaky video ended his career,” a GOP blogger wrote while labeling the lobbyist as “hot-lips” and insinuating she was paid to entrap the married senate leader.
Unless some additional professional improprieties surface in connection to his relationship with the lobbyist, Dix can address the tryst with his wife. My focus remains on failed leadership and an unnecessary $1.75 million outlay.
Time’s up for caucus members who settled for business as usual.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Photo credits: Rod Boshart/The Gazette & Lynda Waddington