Capitol Journal: Why you should believe women in politics who speak out about sexual misconduct
Personally, I almost always believe the woman — any woman who accuses a man of sexual misbehavior or worse.
It’s instinctive. To not, it seems to me, would be intellectually dishonest, especially in the political world. Partisan affiliation has nothing to do with sexual predation, whether it involves President Trump or Bill Clinton, Roy Moore or Rep. John Conyers Jr.
No political party has a monopoly on truth, justice and decency. There are nasty apples in every barrel.
In Sacramento, where political pros of the opposite sex are looking at each other kind of funny amidst all the harassment accusations, I believe the female lobbyist who says she was trapped in a Las Vegas hotel bathroom last year by a California legislator who masturbated in front of her. She says he kept asking her to touch his genitals, and she refused. He finally ejaculated into the toilet, she says.
They were separately attending a co-ed bachelor party.
The lawmaker she named, Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills), flatly denies her accusation. I asked him if anything about it was true.
“No,” he told me Tuesday. “I’m shocked, dismayed, heartbroken…. I never even went to the bathroom.”
But my thinking — and everyone else’s I’ve talked to — is this: What would any lobbyist hope to gain from lying about a legislator committing such an offensive act?
It’s a lobbyist’s job, after all, to persuade lawmakers to vote the way her clients want. Good relations and trust are the coin of the Capitol. (Yes, so are campaign dollars.) There’s nothing to be gained by a lobbyist alienating any legislator.
I asked Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), who heads a sexual harassment subcommittee, what she thought lobbyist Pamela Lopez, 35, could achieve by lying.
“Nothing,” Friedman replied. “Coming forward was disruptive of her career. She’s very courageous.”
Then Friedman referred to all the women — legislative aides, lobbyists — who accused legislators of sexual harassment at a recent committee hearing she chaired.
“I find these women to be credible,” she said.
“You look into their eyes and what they had to say was painful for them. I stand with them. I believe their stories.”
I asked Dababneh, 36, why Lopez would lie. He replied: “I have no idea. I don’t know her that well. When you’re a public figure, you know people can make accusations about you.”
In his case, however, two women now have accused him. Jessica Yas Barker, 34, worked for Dababneh when he was the district office chief for U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Porter Ranch) in 2009. At a news conference with Lopez on Monday, Barker accused Dababneh, who is not married, of repeatedly regaling her with stories of his sexual exploits and telling her she dressed like “a lesbian.”
“I considered Jessica a friend,” Dababneh told me. “In the past, she invited me to her birthday parties.”
But listening to Dababneh, it sounded like he was thinking seriously of resigning — following the path of other lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct such as Conyers and former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima).
“I know that I’m innocent,” he said, “but I am looking into what’s best for my district and best for the Assembly and best for me…. I’m weighing all my options and talking to advisors about them.… People’s opinions of me in Sacramento have to weigh on this because you need a good working relationship with colleagues.”
He’s pretty much toast and seems to know it. For one thing, Dababneh faces a potentially tough reelection race next year. For another, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) has said that if an outside investigation substantiates Lopez’s charges, “I will ask for his immediate resignation and move for his expulsion if he refuses to resign.”
Dababneh already has lost the chairmanship of the potent Assembly Banking and Finance Committee. It’s a politically valuable “juice committee” that attracts piles of campaign donations from financial interests.
Asserts Friedman, whose San Fernando Valley district is next door to Dababneh’s: “If these serious allegations are found to be more than likely true, I do think it would be appropriate … to decide whether or not to expel him.”
Should he be?
“I think he should,” she says. “Personally, I think he should step down. Someone guilty of that shouldn’t be representing their community.”
Dababneh should probably give it up.
And legislative leaders should move swiftly to write a new sexual harassment policy, protect whistleblowers and install an independent investigation system. Also — equally important — publicly expose culprits.
Senate leaders shouldn’t tarry in hiring an independent team of investigators to probe accusations of improper behavior against Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Los Angeles), who denies them. He also has lost his “juice” chairmanship of the Insurance, Banking and Financial Institutions Committee.
Senate Democrats apparently have taken one timely action that could help the fight against sexual harassment. They seem to have settled on Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) to be the first female president pro tem in the state’s history. She’s in line to replace termed-out Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) early next year.
Atkins would also be the first openly gay leader of the state Senate. And she’d be the first former Assembly speaker in 146 years to become pro tem. There were two — Ransome Burnell and James T. Farley — back in the early years of statehood.
There weren’t many women around the Capitol back then. Today’s much better. But some men still need to join the 21st century.
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