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Opinion

Editorial: The message sent by Katie Hill’s resignation

Katie Hill’s upset victory over an incumbent congressman in 2018 was a remarkable achievement for an openly bisexual 31-year-old who’d never held political office and who relied on small donations to bankroll her campaign. The leader of a nonprofit provider of housing for homeless people, Hill, a Democrat, easily beat Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in an Antelope Valley district that had been held by the GOP since the early 1990s.

By electing her, voters seemed to be saying that they didn’t care about Hill’s personal life or her nontraditional path to Congress. And their faith was rewarded as Hill rose quickly into leadership positions among House Democrats and on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, displaying an astute grasp of policy issues and an eagerness to bridge the divide between progressives and conservatives.

But then RedState, a right-of-center blog, started publishing stories about the turmoil in Hill’s personal life, starting on Oct. 10 with allegations by her husband (who had filed for divorce) that Hill was having an affair with her legislative director — a violation of a new House sexual-conduct rule adopted in response to the #MeToo movement. The reports by RedState and other Republican-leaning outlets soon grew more salacious and intrusive as reporters obtained nude photos and other highly personal and sensitive private correspondence involving Hill, her husband and a former campaign staffer with whom they were having a three-way relationship.

There’s not enough information to judge whether Hill, who denies having an affair with her legislative director, exploited her power over a subordinate in violation of House rules. That issue was to be explored by the House Ethics Committee; instead, Hill announced Sunday that she was resigning “so that the good people who supported me will no longer be subjected to the pain inflicted by my abusive husband and the brutality of hateful political operatives.”

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Regardless, everyone should be disturbed by how Hill’s private life — and especially, private photos and texts among adults in an apparently consensual relationship — became ammunition in a campaign to humiliate her. Even members of Congress are entitled to a private life. There are boundaries.

Granted, the boundaries are blurred and the potential for trouble is high when public officials have sexual relations with subordinates, as numerous members of Congress have done over the years. As a society, we are still trying to find the right balance between respecting officials’ privacy and guarding against abuses of power.

But one thing we should never accept is the exploitative release of the images people capture of their private lives. The photos that were published of Hill weren’t intended to draw attention to a violation of House rules; they were remnants of a relationship with a female campaign aide that ended on a sour note. And their disclosure appears to violate at least the spirit of the “revenge porn” prohibitions in both the District of Columbia and California.

In a video she released Monday, Hill said, “I will not allow my experience to scare off other young women or girls from running for office.” If that’s what we’re trying to avoid, we’re going to have to figure out how to guard against wrongdoing while allowing public servants to be free from intrusion and shaming in their private lives.


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