Who knew what when?
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm says he called for an investigation of fellow Republican Representative Mathew Wollmann’s sexual misconduct after Wollmann brought the matter to his attention “in recent days“:
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm said on the House floor that Wollmann told him he had consensual sexual contact with an intern in 2015 and 2016.
…Wollmann said he decided to come forward after he was approached Tuesday by a television station and asked about the situation. Qualm said Wollmann discussed the issue with him and in the House Republican caucus.
Qualm said he was first informed and started looking into the process of what lawmakers should do after an email in recent days from Republican Sen. Stace Nelson [James Nord, “S. Dakota House to Examine Lawmaker’s Conduct with Interns,” AP, 2017.01.18].
But leadership may have known about Wollmann’s troubles well before Wollmann’s confession and the media eruption therearound. Senator Stace Nelson has released to the press an e-mail that he sent to the Legislative Research Council on November 25, 2016, inquiring about sexually predatory conduct by a sitting legislator:
#1 Are there still positions open? Was the notice sent out to all our schools?
#2 I am concerned about reports that a sitting legislator has been sexually preying on page/interns. It was my understanding that such misconduct was an explicit violation of legislator ethical Conduct. What has been done to rectify this disgraceful misconduct and what are the liabilities for SD and legislators for these past acts? For future violations?
S. Nelson [released to the press by Senator Stace Nelson, 2017.01.19]
Senator Nelson refers to “reports,” plural, indicating he had heard about sexual misconduct in the Legislature from multiple sources. Yet even with this information circulating about violations of the Joint Rules on ethical conduct and sexual harassment, House leaders seated Representative Wollmann in on January 10.
We may imagine a few logical scenarios:
- Neither the rumors nor Senator Nelson’s e-mail to LRC reached Majority Leader Qualm or the rest of leadership, and they really knew nothing of Representative Wollmann’s improper conduct until after seating him.
- Qualm and leadership heard about Wollmann’s improper conduct, received his assurances that his predatory days were over, and decided to seat Wollmann without pursuing any formal investigation or action under the rules. (Side note: was Wollmann’s December 22 proposal to his fiancée at the Capitol a shotgun engagement pushed by GOP leadership to prove he was off the market and thus not a threat to 2017’s interns and pages?)
- Qualm and leadership ignored the rumors and the rules and took no action to protect young legislative staff from further sexual predations.
Speaker G. Mark Mickelson yesterday named nine House members to investigate Wollmann’s improper conduct:
- Chairman Rep. Timothy Johns (R-30/Lead)
- Vice-Chairman Rep. Spencer Hawley (D-7/Brookings)
- Rep. Mike Stevens (R-18/Yankton)
- Rep. David Lust (R-34/Rapid City)
- Rep. Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center)
- Rep. Mary Duvall (R-24/Pierre)
- Rep. Julie Bartling (D-21/Gregory)
- Rep. Karen Soli (D-15/Sioux Falls)
- Rep. Steven McCleery (D-1/Sisseton)
This committee must decide the proper punishment for Wollmann, but it has an even more important obligation to determine who knew what when and whether Legislative leadership properly acted on information of improper conduct and enforced its rules to protect young staffers from abuses of power.
Update 07:38 CST: KELO Radio’s Todd Epp says Senator Nelson’s November 25, 2016, e-mail to LRC may signal that the Fulton Senator has the “smoking gun” in this Legislative sex scandal.