KSFY reports that the House Select on Discipline and Expulsion investigating Representative Mathew Wollmann’s confessed sexual misconduct has sent a letter to legislative interns who served in 2015 and 2016 inviting them to submit complaints and testify at the committee’s hearing on Tuesday, January 24, at 3 p.m. at the Capitol. Here is the letter, signed by Legislative Research Council Director Jason Hancock:
Director Hancock notes that the committee may require witnesses to testify under oath and must give Representative Wollmann “the opportunity to confront and to question witnesses called by the committee.”
Legislative interns have unavoidable career interests which they hope to advance through their internship. Politicians in Pierre clearly recognize interns as their party’s farm team and look for talent to groom for jobs in Pierre, candidacies, or other leadership opportunities. This relationship is exactly why Representative Wollmann’s misconduct is not just young buckery but a pattern of predatory behavior that took advantage of his position of power. The interns’ aspirations are also why interns have thus far hesitated to come forward in a public forum to call out Rep. Wollmann’s misconduct, as they know Wollmann’s allies may well punish them politically for challenging both a rising party member and political leaders who apparently did not take action to stop that party member’s misconduct.
Recognizing that terribly uncomfortable position, Director Hancock writes that committee chairman Rep. Timothy Johns, a respected former circuit court judge, does not intend to require anyone to testify who does not want to take that risk. Hancock says Chairman Johns also intends “to keep the names of any interns that may have had sexual contact with Rep. Wollmann from appearing in any public forum or record, if they do not wish to testify.”
Those are good intentions to which we should hold Chairman Johns. We don’t need to force any testimony or subject any interns to shaming or nasty political repercussions from vengeful, misguided Republicans. Rep. Wollmann’s own admission of sexual misconduct, his own bald-faced lying on camera before deciding he wouldn’t get by with that lie, and the serious questions of who among the Legislature’s leaders, past and current, knew what when are enough to motivate this hearing and justify punitive action by the House.
But if enough interns do speak up, if they stake their claims in public, perhaps they can use the publicity of the hearing to insulate themselves from retribution. And if some Republicans do try to stick with Wollmann and punish those who have brought out the uncomfortable facts about his misconduct and the leadership’s moral laxity, they may find themselves in a minority, against a coalition of Republicans and Democrats with conscience, and no longer in a position of power from which to issue retribution for decency or rewards for silence.