The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Candidate calls for protection of survivors

By Lily Hamilton

Last week, Iowa gubernatorial candidate Dr. Andy McGuire demanded that Governor Kim Reynolds and sitting Iowa legislators do more to protect sexual assault and harassment survivors in a press release to her supporters. McGuire claimed that the stories of women who came forward to share the stories of sexual assault and harassment through the #MeToo social media phenomenon inspired her to call on state leaders to “act and be vocal about sexual assault and harassment prevention,” given their failure to do so in recent months.

McGuire’s press release referenced a sexual harassment case in the Iowa senate resolved in August. The case resulted in a $2.2 million award to Kirsten Anderson, the former communications director for the Iowa Republican caucus, who was harassed and fired in retaliation just seven hours after she complained to her supervisors in 2013, according to The Des Moines Register. The state will pay the $2.2 million dollars from its general fund, which is comprised of taxpayer dollars.

Throughout her trial, Anderson and other current and former Republican caucus employees described a work environment where jokes about individuals’ sex lives, race and sexual orientation were common, and where lewd comments occurred regularly. Anderson claimed that one senior policy analyst, Jim Friedrich, used vulgar terms including the “C-Word” frequently throughout the course of his divorce in 2010. Furthermore, Anderson claimed that former state senator Shawn Hammerlinck of Davenport would talk about the size of lobbyists’ breasts and the skirt-length of high school-aged senate pages.

Anderson complained three times about the work environment between 2010 and her firing in 2013. However, the Republican defense alleged that despite her claims, Anderson was fired based on her quality of work, citing instances where her supervisors told her that her writing needed improvement. The defense also claimed that Anderson’s complaints about the workplace were not individualized and that any instances of harassment would have affected everyone in the office equally.

Anderson’s attorney, Mike Carroll, raised questions about the powerful “boys’ club” that is the statehouse, claiming that elected Republican leaders ignored Anderson’s claims because they were afraid to upset the status quo. Carroll argued in his closing statements that, “Powerful men do not believe the word of a woman who is speaking up for herself.”

Despite Anderson’s victory, state leaders appear to be doing little to combat the culture of sexual harassment in the legislature. The senate under the direction of Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix has begun an investigation into complaints of sexual assault in the workplace. However, Dix appointed Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson to lead the investigation. Smithson is appointed by the Republican Senate majority caucus, and thus responds to Dix. Furthermore, Dix approved Anderson’s dismissal in 2013.

Rather than contracting out to the state’s Department of Administrative Services for Human Resources (DAS) to conduct the investigation, Dix believes that an internal investigation will prove sufficient. Dix’s choice raises questions as to how thorough and unbiased the investigation will be, and whether the culture of harassment will persist as a result given that he has not fired anyone Anderson alleged to have engaged in sexual harassment.

When questioned about the investigation by The Des Moines Register, Governor Kim Reynolds stated, “I have faith in Senator Dix that he will take the necessary steps and has, it’s my understanding, taken the necessary steps to make sure [sexual harassment is] not going to be tolerated.” Reynolds further stated, “I think it would be helpful to contact DAS,” but that she ultimately has no control over the legislature.

McGuire’s call to action for Iowa’s legislators aligns with her campaign message of fighting for all Iowans, particularly women, people of color and other marginalized groups, in the Trump era. Her timing is also uncanny given recent developments in California where 140 women working in the state capitol signed an open letter last week calling out the insufficiency of the state’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations in the capitol. The women have named their group “We Said Enough,” and are forming a nonprofit organization to mobilize their advocacy efforts. The actions of Anderson, McGuire and the women of We Said Enough show that women are determined now more than ever to challenge and eradicate the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in state politics.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *