* I’m getting some strong and legitimate pushback for something I wrote for subscribers this morning…
I think we can safely stipulate that lots and lots of men aren’t directly contributing to the culture of sexual harassment at the Statehouse. But, just remember this, almost all women have experienced problems in one way or another. Something has to be done to stop this problem.
My intent was to address the men who are acting defensive and claiming they aren’t part of the problem. We are part of the problem no matter how pristine we may think our behavior might be because just about every woman has at least one (and some have many) horror stories to tell about being harassed, groped, discriminated against, silenced, etc. That means, on its face, the culture is really messed up here and far more men are perpetrators/witnesses/enablers than we might allow ourselves to believe, so everybody has to participate in a solution, both personal and structural. Men don’t have the luxury of distance here. You don’t get to say it’s not you just because you never groped anybody.
I’m truly sorry that I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t attempting to excuse people who turn a blind eye or don’t step up. And by “lots and lots” I didn’t mean to imply that it was the majority or the vast majority.
We’re all learning and we all need to continue learning.
* On to the Sun-Times editorial…
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford endured crude remarks about her legs from a male colleague in Springfield. She had to remind another fellow legislator that he was the same age as her grandfather to get him to stop making “inappropriate” comments about her.
“I think that when you’re just around people who are in powerful positions, men and women alike, they think they can do that,” Lightford, who is from Maywood, told Sun-Times political reporter Tina Sfondeles on Tuesday as women who work at the state Capitol spoke up about being sexually harassed by men in power.
Galvanized by women who have gone public with allegations of harassment and sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and the ensuing #MeToo social media campaign, women in Illinois politics are talking about their own experiences. Some are telling their stories on the “Say No More” Facebook page, and more than 150 women who are elected officials, lobbyists or consultants have signed a letter describing harassment by powerful men they work with. So far, the alleged harassers have been lucky — they haven’t been named publicly.
Ironically, a state Legislature charged with writing laws about discrimination, harassment and protecting vulnerable people is under fire for fostering an environment ripe for abuse. It’s up to leaders in Springfield to transform the culture. Insiders have known forever that the Capitol can be a toxic and sleazy place. House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton as well as minority leaders Jim Durkin and Bill Brady — and all their deputies — must make it a more decent and professional place to work. It’s what they would demand of a rogue corporation, university or public agency that mistreats people.
* And JB Pritzker has a long Medium piece on the topic which concludes this way…
As for Springfield, the capitol is not a club house. It is a place where democracy and the free exchange of ideas should thrive. As long as women are being demeaned, harassed, and assaulted as the price of entry into Illinois politics, we, as a state and as a democracy, are failing. We must take steps to address these issues in our state capitols:
We must make sure women are elected, appointed and hired in all levels of government to break up the culture of “boys’ clubs.”
We must enact formal sexual harassment and interruption training for lobbyists, elected officials, and staff and establish a culture of accountability.
In the end, it’s all of our responsibility to change the culture to one where women are treated with dignity and respect. It will be uncomfortable, and it will require an ongoing effort even when the news moves on. But I’m inspired by the women who have persisted for so many years — who quietly kept going in the face of such adversity, who never allowed those who would demean them to diminish them, and who are now fighting so bravely for a better future.
The burden and opportunity to create change falls significantly on me and on other men. It is our responsibility to make it better. I accept that responsibility and will carry it out in the days, weeks and years ahead — and as your next governor in Springfield.
* And Speaker Madigan’s proposed legislation has surfaced as an amendment to SB402. Click here for the text. Here are some bullet points…
1) The State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and the Lobbyist Registration Act are amended to specifically state that all persons have a right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment, and that person shall refrain from sexual harassment.
2) Every constitutional officer, legislator, unit of local government, and lobbyist is required to adopt a sexual harassment policy that includes a prohibition on sexual harassment, how an individual can report allegations, and any disciplinary actions for violation of the policy.
3) Every constitutional officer, legislator, State employee, and lobbyist is required to attend sexual harassment training, which includes a description of sexual harassment utilizing examples.
4) Each state Inspector General will have authority to review allegations of sexual harassment and submit any founded complaints to the applicable Ethics Commission for a hearing. Each Ethics Commission will have the authority to fine an individual up to $5,000 for a violation of the prohibition on sexual harassment.
5) Every constitutional officer and legislative leader must annually submit to the applicable Ethics Commission a report detailing plans for training and the names of those who did not participate in training.
*** UPDATE *** A House Personnel & Pensions Committee hearing on Speaker Madigan’s proposal has been scheduled for next Tuesday morning at 10 in the Bilandic Building.