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Opinion

Column: Katie Hill messed up, but she should not have resigned

Katie Hill
Katie Hill in May 2018.
(Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

I really wish U.S. Rep. Katie Hill had not resigned.

The Santa Clarita freshman Democrat has been charged with no crime, is going through what appears to be a miserable divorce, has always been frank about her bisexuality, had a relationship with a member of her campaign staff, but has denied an accusation that she had an affair with a male congressional staffer when she got to Washington, D.C., earlier this year. She is now the subject of a House ethics probe.

Should we have expected more from her? Yes, and I will get to that in a moment.

But she has done nothing — that we know of at least — that should have led her to step down.

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If, as has been alleged, she had a consensual sexual relationship with a staffer in her congressional office, the 32-year-old Democrat should have earned a slap on the wrist. To show how seriously Congress has taken that sort of thing (not), it wasn’t even until last year that the House changed its rules to prohibit sexual relationships between members and their employees.

And wouldn’t you know it — the first lawmaker to fall afoul of the new House rule is a woman, and an unabashedly bisexual woman at that.

This is not to say that no male lawmaker has ever lost his job over sexual misconduct. In fact, since October 2017, when the MeToo movement exploded, at least four members of Congress outright resigned, and four said they would not run for reelection.

But let’s look at what they did.

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On the Democratic side: U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota resigned and Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada did not seek reelection after being accused by multiple women of unwanted touching. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan was accused by six former employees of sexual harassment.

In the Republican column: Using government funds, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas settled a sexual harassment complaint with a staffer; Rep. Joe Barton, also of Texas, threatened to report a lover to the U.S. Capitol Police, fearing she might expose his other affairs; Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania settled a sexual harassment complaint with a female staffer. And, because I like to save the best for last, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona offered a staff member $5 million to bear his child; and Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, who once served on the House Pro-Life Caucus, asked his pregnant lover to have an abortion.

There is, I daresay, a difference between those and the consensual conduct of which Hill is accused.

Which is why I think that Hill, to her credit, is taking one for her party. In a statement, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) indicated as much: “She has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a member untenable. We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces.”

In a video posted Monday morning, a tearful but resolute Hill says she has resigned because “I will not allow myself to be a distraction from the constitutional crisis we are faced with, and the critical work of my colleagues.”

President Trump, on the other hand, has paid off a porn star who says she had sex with him, proudly boasted of sexual assault and still maintains his good graces with his evangelical base. Heck, another Republican has even been accused of stealing money to pursue affairs, and was rewarded by his constituents with reelection in 2018.

That would be U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who has been charged with misusing campaign funds, some of which he allegedly used on trips with his family, others of which he allegedly used on trips with his lovers. He not only didn’t resign, he dug in.

His wife, who pleaded guilty, faces up to five years in prison, and he still hasn’t had the decency to resign. The only thing he has going in his favor is that, as far as I know, there are no naked selfies of him circulating around the internet.

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Which brings me to Hill’s biggest sin.

Quite apart from the harsh double standards faced by female politicians — they can’t be too shrill, they have to be likable, on and on — Hill is also being punished, or punishing herself, for one colossally fantastically unbelievably stupid move: Posing for nude photographs, alone and with a woman who appears to be a lover, while running for Congress.

Someone released intimate photos of her that were published by the Daily Mail and the conservative website RedState, which has pursued this story with Kenneth Starr-like glee.

In one of the photos, she’s naked, holding a bong and appears to be stoned. There is, at the top of her thigh, an iron-cross tattoo that RedState has alleged is a Nazi symbol. The cross has been adopted by bikers and Goths too. Does anyone really believe Hill has Nazi sympathies? For heaven’s sake, she ran the largest homeless services organization in California. There is nothing in her record that would indicate such a proclivity.

Also, when the photo was taken in 2017, she was within her legal rights to use cannabis recreationally, but let’s face it, it’s not a good look for a neophyte congresswoman to be photographed naked about to take a bong hit. Even one from cannabis-friendly California.

Whoever disseminated the photos has committed a horrendous invasion of her privacy, and is trying to destroy her. Rightfully, she has contacted U.S. Capitol Police.

A series of text messages were also published by RedState, in which Hill appears to admit being drunk at last spring’s Democratic Party convention in San Francisco, and intimating she has a drinking problem.

Does she? Maybe. And if she does, she should have said so and announced a trip to rehab. Plenty of American politicians admit they have a substance abuse problem, get the help, do the work and resume their responsibilities as elected officials.

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Hill became a star of the 2018 campaign. “Vice” followed her around for a documentary series and called her “the most millennial candidate ever.”

After she won the Democratic primary, she faced longtime Republican incumbent Steve Knight. Next to the wooden former cop, she was a breath of fresh air. She beat him by 9 percentage points.

But maybe it was exactly her millennialism that did her in. I can think of nothing more millennial than being destroyed for posing naked for photos that can be disseminated with the push of a button.

There’s one more thing: Her husband, Kenneth Heslep, who says in divorce papers that he’s a stay-at-home spouse, has asked for alimony. Good luck getting it, buddy, now that her career has imploded.


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