Former Legislators & Lobbyists Decry Sexism in Pierre; Republicans Reject Accusations

Angie Buhl O’Donnell and Samantha Spawn opened the door to a conversation about sexism in the Capitol with their accusations of sexual harassment and assault. À la Weinstein and “Me Too“, more than a dozen women come through that door in probably the single-most important political story in this weekend’s South Dakota news, Dana Ferguson and Megan Raposa’s report on “Sexism in the Statehouse.”

Argus Leader Media reached out to every woman currently serving in the Legislature as well as many former legislators, lobbyists, interns and pages. Many of the more than 30 women interviewed said sexism in Pierre is nothing new.

Longtime legislators and lobbyists describe the atmosphere as a “good old boys’ club.” Women have never been proportionately represented in the Legislature, and for much of the last decade, they’ve accounted for only about 1 in 5 lawmakers.

The boys’ club mentality is exacerbated by the Capitol’s remote location, more than three hours from the state’s largest cities. Far from home and their families, male legislators are well-positioned to do what they want without fear of consequences.

“Men have the feeling that they can just behave any way they want and get away with it,” said former Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron. “There’s a ‘what happens in Pierre stays in Pierre’ mentality.”

Gibson and others made sure newcomers to the Capitol were warned about the sexism they’d likely face, though harassment is not commonly discussed among those working in Pierre [Dana Ferguson and Megan Raposa, “Sexism in the Statehouse: Women Detail Harassment in Pierre,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.10.21].

None of the women speaking out name specific offenders.

Joining Gibson in speaking on the record to Ferguson and Raposa about sexist, objectifying language and behavior in Pierre and the culture of intimidating women into silence:

  • Former legislator Paula Hawks, who briefly shook up her U.S. House race against Kristi Noem last year by making public her story of being raped in college. Hawks says “90 percent of the time” Pierre offers a “safe culture” but “The fact that that exists, even to a small extent, is unacceptable.”
  • Former lobbyist Ro Ann Redlin
  • Former lobbyist Tiffany Campbell
  • Former legislator Caitlin Collier
  • Rep. Susan Wismer (D-1/Britton), who recalls harassment when she was an intern in the 1970s.
  • Former legislator Lora Hubbel
  • Former legislator Elaine Roberts.

Poo-pooing the problem:

  • Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle): ““I have never felt uncomfortable…. I’ve never felt out-gunned. I’ve never felt my opinion didn’t matter.”
  • Sen. Kris Langer (R-25/Dell Rapids), who claims these reports are just Democratic smear tactics: “It’s not something that’s ever bothered me…. There’s never anything said that you wouldn’t tell a good friend.”
  • Former House Speaker Dean Wink: “I think the South Dakota Legislature is probably considered one of the safest for women… There are obviously exceptions from time to time.”
  • Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, who presides over the Senate: “Any perception that there is some sort of culture that exists during the legislative session, I would absolutely reject that out of hand.”
  • Numerous 2017 interns, who say “they never experienced sexism or harassment.”

Somewhere in the middle:

  • Rep. Julie Bartling (D-21/Gregory) says she’s never been harassed, but “I believe the legislators are becoming more cautious as to what is going on and how it’s perceived.”

Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton says legislators could use “awareness training.” (How one ropes lobbyists into such training is an open question.) House Majority Leader Lee Qualm says he’s open to more discussion.

In the online discussion, frequent blog commenter Anne Beal proves women can be sexist pigs, too, by trying to distinguish between sexism at the Capitol and sexism at the bars:

The State House is a business environment. A bar is a social environment.

If people go to a bar after work, start drinking, dancing, and flirting, well, that’s what happens in bars. If two people go into a bar together, that’s a date. If they go alone, that’s cruising.

If a woman doesn’t want men hitting on her, she doesn’t go to bars unescorted.

Of course there are some people who say that a woman should be able to go to a bar by herself and drink all she wants and nobody should bother her, but she should let the waitress or bartender know “I don’t want anybody buying me drinks tonight” so that they can make sure it doesn’t happen. She might explain she’s just had a tough day and wants to get hammered all by herself.

Otherwise some guy will have a drink sent over to her and she’ll be expected to let him join her. So the staff needs to know ahead of time.

There was a time when everybody understood these things but now it seems too many people don’t [Anne Gross Beal, comment under Facebook post of Ferguson/Raposa story, 2017.10.21].

Here Beal is contending that the default setting for women at bars is “Fair Game!” and that women have the burden to remove themselves from public ogling, groping, and other objectifying behavior. In other words, Beal is saying life is a meat market, and women are meat that men are welcome to sample until told otherwise.

Let’s reverse that. Let’s tell otherwise now.

Women are not meat. Women do not exist to satisfy men’s lust. Women are not ours to grab, proposition, or ogle. Women don’t need to jump through hoops to invoke their rights. Their rights exist from birth, before they say a word, and we men have an obligation to respect those rights.

The burden is not on women to tell men to leave them alone. The burden is on men to leave women alone.

Update 09:33 CDT: Former legislator Fred Deutsch wants equal time for his perceived grievances. Dana Ferguson is willing to give it:

Dana Ferguson to Fred Deutsch, Twitter, 2017.10.22.
Dana Ferguson to Fred Deutsch, Twitter, 2017.10.22.

Go for it, Dana: let’s hear Fred’s woeful false equivalency and tearful tale of men oppressed by women in Pierre.

31 Responses to Former Legislators & Lobbyists Decry Sexism in Pierre; Republicans Reject Accusations

  1. There is a need to behave professionally in a professional setting. But now you can’t buy a woman a drink at a bar anymore? That’s absolutely ridiculous, Cory. Is there anyplace that a man can express interest in a woman, or is the new rule that women must always and only make the first move?

  2. Ror, for centuries the rule was women stayed silent and only men could make the first move. Maybe we should try it the opposite way for a while, if for no other reason than to get it through our thick male heads what it feels like to be objects.

    There is a need to behave professionally in a professional setting. There is a need to behave humanely and respectfully in every setting. Beal is excusing much more than buying a stranger a drink. But even on that social gesture, check out Beal’s error: she thinks that if a woman doesn’t put up some red flag before receiving a drink, then when a man does buy her a drink, she is obligated to let the man join her. That’s wrong.

    I see no need to ban this odd practice of buying beverages for people you don’t know as a signal that you’d like to boink them. However, the fact that a man spends $5 on a beverage and delivers that beverage to a woman creates no obligation on her part to respond. If she declines, ignores, or pours the drink on the floor, tough shiskey. You’re out five bucks—move on, keep your piggish remarks to yourself, and next time, focus your efforts on getting to know someone in context instead of picking up some semi-random female on pure physical instinct in a bar.

  3. Francis Schaffer

    It is more than stay silent, could not own property if married, couldn’t vote, hold public office, date if a single teacher, etc. These were established by law and contracts. Ask a group of people how they adjust their day so they won’t be harassed, sexually assaulted, raped and most men will think that is a ridiculous question, the women on the group will give an extensive list. Hey Rorscbach do you carry mace?

  4. It amazes me that Paula Hawks would wait until a political opportunity to make public her rape. If these crimes are being committed why are they not being reported to law enforcement? A retired detective once told me me – “you can not rape the willing”. I find all these allegations hard to believe when they come out years later, with no police reports, no medical examine, only allegations at opportunist times. If you are raped or sexually assaulted there are laws against this and people go to jail, however one must report it.

  5. Roger Cornelius

    There is a simple protocol to approaching a woman in a bar it can save you money and spare you embarrassment .
    If there is a woman in a bar that you would like to meet ask her permission to buy her a drink. If she declines simply accept the rejection. It has been years since I have been in the bar scene, but I recall a woman once telling me that by buying her a drink is no indication that she wants to have sex with you. If the woman accepts your offer of a drink, consider it an introduction to a possible friendship

  6. Oh, poor Fred Deutch is hurt b/c the Argus puts out a story on sexual harassment in Pierre. How dare the news media does that. Wah, wah wah.
    If Fred has a story to tell about being harassed by a woman, there couldn’t be a better time to bring it up.

  7. Roger has the correct gentlemanly way to approaching a woman in a bar.

  8. And maybe legislators, lobbyists, and interns should be buying each other drinks at the bar in the first place. Given all the bills to read and study, legislators should approach Session not as summer camp but as an intensive quarter at law school, during which they spend every waking moment cramming for their “exams”—i.e., their votes on important bills.

    Oh, but legislators need time to unwind, you complain? They have that time—when they get in their cars and drive home to see their families and constituents after their mostly four-day work weeks in the Capitol.

    How about this amendment to the Constitution: declare Hughes and Stanley counties dry counties whenever the Legislature is in Session?

    Legislators in Pierre during Session should be as studious, abstemious, and celibate as monks.

  9. Roger is a proper ladies’ man.

  10. Sam reminds us of why it’s hard for women to speak up against this oppression: no matter when they do, they’ll have men casting doubt upon them.

  11. mike from iowa

    Sam@- here are any number of articles to tell you why victims don’t always come forward in a timely manner or why they don’t come out at all.

    On many college campuses when an allegation is made against a star athlete, the boo birds go full auto on her character and motives- most claiming she is looking for a payday.

    The military is a big problem. Mainly, until Obama came in, they swept the incidents under the rug.

  12. Francis Schaffer

    I am appalled by Sam’s comment, yet I view this as an opportunity to attempt to inform him and actually respond to his question. Why do people not report? Everyone has their own reason, yet I will make a list, which is by no means all inclusive;
    1) Who will believe me?
    2) I don’t want to listen to the victim blaming.
    3) Did I do enough to stop it?
    4) They are so powerful what will my word against their word amount to.
    Sam, society has an extensive history of placing all blame, responsibility, accountability upon the victim of rape. Even the narrative of rape places the victim in a position to prove their claim. Women are raped, not men rape women. Do you see the difference, Sam? Sam, have you ever been raped or sexual assaulted? The trauma is incredible and very personal searing to the very core of a person. So I do not question a person’s motives for the timing of coming forward because that very act re-traumatizes everyone who discloses. Part of the healing process for anyone who has been sexually assaulted, raped, victimized is to reveal it to another human. Yes I am saying that those who never discuss it cannot heal.
    Let me also use some examples of people not going to jail or not being appropriately punished (my opinion)
    Brock Turner – Stanford swimmer
    Roman Polanski – actually plead guilty then left.
    So Sam it is not as simple as coming forward and if I have done a poor job of formulating the argument, I apologize. Let us expand the statute of limitations on rape, sexual assault, child rape, child pornography so we can put these people in prison or better yet teach men/boys about consent – a much simpler solution. Women in this country have the same rights as men, it is time we acted like it.

  13. bearcreekbat

    In the federal system I believe that the statute of limitations (SOL) for sex offenses has been extended to the entire lifetime of the alleged victim. As long as the victim is alive, the perpetrator can be prosecuted. This can be a two edged sword.

    I am personally aware of a sad case involving young foster kids who were molested by a 13 year old in the home before they were placed elsewhere. The home was on a military base. The kids apparently told no one at the time and the 13 year old was not caught.

    Fast forward several years. The 13 year old boy grew up, joined the military and fought in Iraq. He survived the war, returned home and started a family. By the time he was 28 years old, he was gainfully employed, supported his family and was a productive community member with no criminal record.

    Meanwhile, one of the foster kids he molested was in therapy and revealed what had happened while in foster care. The therapist reported it to law enforcement. Because the conduct took place on a federal military base, federal authorities arrested and charged the 28 year old with several federal sex crimes.

    Had he been caught and charged as a 13 year old teenager, he would have been tried in federal juvenile court, which provides for rehabilitation and significantly limits any incarceration or other punishment for kids who are under the age of 15 when charged with a federal crime.

    Since he was now 28, however, he was charged as an adult and faced extensive adult prison time, lifetime supervised release and lifetime registration as a sex offender, all required by the then mandatory federal sentencing guidelines, which gave the sentencing judge little or no discretion to consider the unique circumstances of his case.

    At the time he committed his offense the federal SOL was 5 years. Congress extended the SOL in several steps over the years and by the time he was charged it had been extended to the lifetime of the victim.

  14. Roger Cornelius

    Some states allow for rape test kits samples can be indicted if the rapists is unknown, thereby getting around SOL’s laws. Apparently the indictments can last as it takes to run samples through state and national data bases.

    bear, why wasn’t the soldier charged as a minor since he was 13 at the time?

    Does anyone know the status of the untested rape kits that were gathering dust in Pierre. If I call correctly there were several thousand kits that were untested and unprosecuted.

  15. mike from iowa

    Attorney General Marty Jackley confirms that South Dakota Forensic Lab (SDFL) has completed the testing of all rape kits from law enforcement agencies in South Dakota. Untested rape kits have become and continue to be a national concern.

    January 9, 2017

    PIERRE, S.D. (KOTA TV) – Attorney General Marty Jackley confirms that South Dakota Forensic Lab (SDFL) has completed the testing of all rape kits from law enforcement agencies in South Dakota. Untested rape kits have become and continue to be a national concern.

  16. Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle): ““I have never felt uncomfortable…. I’ve never felt out-gunned. I’ve never felt my opinion didn’t matter.”

    didn’t she admit to carrying concealed in the capitol?

  17. bearcreekbat

    Roger, since the SOL had not run, the court ruled he could be charged with the crimes. But since he was no longer a juvenile, the federal statutes that limited the process and punishment of juvenile offenders no longer protected him.

    Here is one case that provides the reasoning for such a decision in a slightly different factual setting. See e.g.

  18. My fist is a mace, Francis.

    AG Jackley has eliminated the backlog of untested rape kits. Let’s hope that the state lab also is caught up or gets caught up on testing all DNA samples taken from people convicted of crimes and gets them entered into the national database. That’s how they solved the murder at Blue Mounds State Park. But the killer was in the SD pen a long time before his DNA sample was ever tested. We need to get completely caught up on all DNA testing and database checking.

  19. Roger Cornelius

    Thanks bear

  20. Mr. C is indeed the proper sort of ladies’ man, Mr. H. I have watched Mr. C back in the day, and he is the proper sort of ladies’ man indeed. And, he played it well. I do not get out much any more but there are probably others who play it the right way, too. Heck, even my old friend Bob, and my other friend Bob were the proper sorts of ladies’ men. Those fellows, when you watched them work the bar scene and dance with ladies, or the old Hermosa pizza joint, those fellows were smooth.

  21. and polite. Mostly, they were polite.

  22. Roger Cornelius

    For the record:

    I don’t much care for the term “ladies man” and the connotation it implies.

    I much prefer the simple term “gentlemen”.

  23. Indeed. Mr. C is a gentleman, the sort of which we all should strive to be.

  24. Sexism is culturally Conservative. Equality is culturally Liberal.

    Just look at how Liberal SD’s elected state officials claim to be – while all they ever ran on was “I’m the true conservative, compared to my opponent.”


  25. Cory talks about the risks involved in buying a stranger a drink: “If she declines, ignores, or pours the drink on the floor, tough shiskey. You’re out five bucks—move on…” Yes, everyone who buys a stranger a drink is aware of these risks. These hypothetical guys are perverts or pigs just because they want to buy a lady a drink.

    The recent focus on sexual misconduct in Pierre and elsewhere has this blog reading like a man-blaming, hate-all-guys fest. We are all animals, men and women. We have biological imperatives to create more of our own kind of animals. Bars became common places to have a good time, and women who are having a good time are more likely to allow a man to get them pregnant than women who are not having a good time. Animal attraction can create odd behavior. If this didn’t work, men wouldn’t do it, so at least enough of the female population is on board with this to allow it to become normal social behavior. Martyr much?

    Then the article anti-victim-shames (did I just coin a phrase?) the people who were interviewed who had not felt victimized in some way. What a backwards crock of self-serving hypocrisy. These people are “poo-pooping” the problem by not lying about their experiences? This article reads like it was written by an ex-Fox news writer.

    I love this next one – “Maybe we should try it the opposite way for a while, if for no other reason than to get it through our thick male heads what it feels like to be objects.” Give me a break. Men are objectified just as often as women, it just usually isn’t sexually-motivated.

    Look at the big-picture and it seems like historically and biologically speaking, men spend most of their lives chasing women to have sex with them, so the daily actions of men, including their work, social activities, and business dealings are mostly undertaken with the goal in mind of achieving the sexual consent of a female. Women spend their lives in search of companionship and comfort. This makes women more likely to have stronger ties to family, be better parents, and offer sex in exchange for a man’s attention or company.

    Men objectify women to get what we have been programmed to want. Women objectify men to get what they have been programmed to want. I agree that it’s terrible that men are more likely than women are to take what they want by force, but it doesn’t change the reality of most everyone acting in their own self-interest based on chemical reactions encoded in our being for eons. Everyone is an object to everyone else.

  26. Roger, rather than argue for a reclaiming and repurposing of “ladies man, ” I’ll defer to your linguistic preference. “Gentleman” is an apt term.

    Ryan, horsehockey. Men are not objectified in the same oppressive way as often as women. Not even close. This issue is about power, and men have most of the power and do most of the harassment. False equivalence.

  27. I admitted in my post that men take their desires by force more than women, and I think that is a sad reality. I don’t think any person, male or female, should get what they want from another person by force, fraud, trickery, manipulation, or any other underhanded method.

    I never said anything was equal, so there is no false equivalence in my post. I was simply addressing the issue of “men objectify women” with a response that “women also objectify men” (notice the active verb rather than the passive verb, because that is the stupid baloney that some people think matters). My statement was true, and with my admission that men take scope and force further than women often do, my entire comment is not horsehockey.

    Like I mentioned in a different comment, generalizing men as perverts and criminals and sex fiends and everything else, and then mandating that all men need to be better and need to do better because some people commit violent crimes is just shamelessly pandering to an audience that is already primed to hate all men for the actions of a few.

    75% of kids get bullied – all you people are bullies and need to be better people! How dare you!

    15% of women cheat on their men – all of you people are lustful sinners and need to change!

    35% of men admit to cheating on business trips – cancel all business trips, adulterers! No husband can be trusted outside the home or office.

    13% of women have used illegal drugs in the last year – you’re all junkies! Clean up your acts – think of the message you are all sending to the children!

    23% of adult men are gay – that means all men must be gay! Who knew!?

    9% of fathers are raising a child who he incorrectly assumes is his biological child – well these lying women committing crimes and treating people badly are a perfectly appropriate sample on which to base my judgment of all other women, right?

    Or, maybe we should judge people based on their own actions, not based on the actions of completely different, other people. I guess that does that feel more practical and well-reasoned that the rest of this conversation, so it’s a bit out of place here.

  28. Francis Schaffer

    I believe that I can be judged on my inaction, sin of omission as well. I don’t remember who said; ‘Evil can flourish when good people stand by and do nothing’; not sure if that is an exact quote or not, yet I need to be reminded that others do not think this way and I cannot change that.

  29. I think that’s a movie quote – Boondock Saints. Great movie.

    But I don’t believe in sin and I don’t know religious scripture, so for all I know maybe the movie took it from somewhere else.

  30. Francis Schaffer

    You don’t believe in sin; good for you. Myself too much Baltimore catechism. How about right and wrong? Good and evil? Rule of law? Do you believe in these? Just wondering. Civil society?

  31. I very much believe in civility, the rule of law, and right and wrong. I would say I’m undecided on good and evil, but probably not because those words almost certainly have a religious flavor to them that I can’t reconcile with my own reality. I was raised in a religious home, too, it just didn’t stick.

    I think everyone should be free to believe whatever they believe, so I have nothing against people avoiding what they think of as sin, I just prefer when people choose to be kind to each other because it is the human thing to do, not because they’re afraid of the devil.