The Senate has published a redacted transcript of the testimony it took behind closed doors from the Legislative Research Council employee who accused Senator Julie Frye-Mueller (R-30/Rapid City) of harassment. That accusation led to the Senate’s removal of Frye-Mueller from her committee assignments, suspension from three days of floor debates, formal censure, and restriction of Frye-Mueller’s access to LRC offices.
The redactions conceal the LRC employee’s name (which Frye-Mueller exposed at last Tuesday’s hearing), the year she got married, the year the LRC hired her, the number of Sessions she has worked, the month her son was born, the name of her previous employer, and certain health information related to her pregnancy. Otherwise, the transcript provides the accuser’s complete testimony, which began with this brief statement:
Thank you, Mr. Chair, committee. First and foremost, the statement that I gave you and my supervisor in the LRC, I still stand by that. The big thing I want to just say is I love my job, I love my job, and I very much hope this doesn’t affect it, and I love my family. That’s my statement [LRC employee, testimony to Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion, 2023.01.31].
The LRC employee rejects the tearful assertion Senator Frye-Mueller made in her subsequent open testimony that the Senator and the employee were friends:
SENATOR DAVIS: I was wondering if you could describe your relationship with Senator Frye-Mueller prior to this incident.
EMPLOYEE: First and foremost, if I could first explain a little bit about my job. I’m a legislative staffer. That means not only do I have my current supervisors in the LRC as my bosses, but I have 105 bosses, and that means I deal with a lot of different ideas and a lot of different things that I’m working on at any one given time. And part of how I give a good service, I believe, how I serve all of you is being friendly, it’s being courteous, it’s listening to you when you come with bill ideas and so forth.
And I recognize the passion and I truly enjoy helping you all, but it’s not me being your friend, it’s me just being your staffer doing a job. I don’t see any of you outside of this job. I did not see Frye-Mueller outside of this job. I did not hang out, hang out or go out to eat with her or anything like that. There is no text messages that would prove that. There is no emails. I have never even seen her in public outside of this building. So I don’t — I don’t know why my friendliness in my job is being construed that I’m her friend [LRC employee, 2023.01.31].
The employee says that Frye-Mueller’s inability to differentiate professional and personal relationships had made her uncomfortable before, but the employee let it slide until Frye-Mueller got in her face about her son:
SENATOR TOBIN: Throughout your time working with Senator Frye-Mueller, have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable before this day that you have in your testimony?
EMPLOYEE: Yes. Would you like me to expand?
SENATOR TOBIN: Mr. Chair. Yes, please.
EMPLOYEE: Senator Frye-Mueller I do believe has crossed boundaries sometimes with me, I suppose in this because she’s believed we were friends, but again, I go back to me trying to do my job and be supportive and get the job done. And at the end of the day, I did allow things — I did allow her to say things that made me uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this time, this time involved my son. I could not let that slide [LRC employee, 2023.01.31].
At that point in the hearing, the employee appears to have become so rattled by the recollection of Senator Frye-Mueller’s unprofessional statements in the employee’s office that the employee’s lawyer, Jack Hieb, asked for a recess so his client could “gather herself”. When the committee reconvened, the employee gave examples of previous line-crossing by Frye-Mueller:
SENATOR TOBIN: Mr. Chair. As far as feeling uncomfortable previously, can you elaborate on what types of specifics made you uncomfortable previously with Senator Frye-Mueller
EMPLOYEE: Mr. Chair. It would be things that didn’t have anything to do with bill drafts, nothing to do with research. It would just be comments, you know, there was — I got married in (year) in Minnesota, and there was a comment that she couldn’t believe I got married in Minnesota, that a specific party controls that state, and she went into some details about that and it crossed the lines of — again, it crossed the lines of any professionalism. It went into my personal life, into my family. Those were things like that that made me uncomfortable [LRC employee, 2023.01.31].
The employee rejects the claim made by Frye-Mueller’s husband Mike that he stepped away from the offensive conversation and says he actively enhanced her discomfort:
SENATOR DUHAMEL: My question is the husband’s involvement. We have been told that the husband left during the, quote, girlie talk. I’m just wondering what was the Senator’s husband’s involvement in this? Was he there during the uncomfortable parts?
EMPLOYEE: He was there standing in front of my doorway, standing in front of my closed door, both her and her husband were standing there. He was nodding in agreement and looking at me through the exchange in a — his smiling made me severely uncomfortable [LRC employee, 2023.01.31].
The employee distinguishes this personally invasive unprofessional behavior from the passionate conversations we might expect from legislators concerning bills in which they are personally invested. That kind of heat, says the employee, she can take, but not comments about her child:
SENATOR LARSON: I want to get a sense. You mentioned that there were other times in the course of your job that you had felt uncomfortable, and I’m trying to get a sense of was this a common occurrence culturally within LRC that staff had to deal with or was it more of like in the sense that was this the straw that broke the camel’s back or was it more of a specific one time or a couple time incident, if there was sort
of something? I don’t know if you have any thoughts about that.
EMPLOYEE: Mr. Chair. In this job, we deal with high tension situations, and people, legislators, staff, we say things, I think we all know that, but, ummm, this conversation went as far as to say that my son would die, my child, that something physically might happen to him based on my parenting decisions. It talked about one of my body parts and sexual acts I would do with my husband, and I don’t believe that’s — I don’t think that’s — that’s not falling into the category of maybe getting a little heated if your bill didn’t go — your hearing didn’t go the right way. That’s beyond what should be happening in this building. I truly believe that crossed a very clear boundary [LRC employee, 2023.01.31].
So why didn’t the employee immediately express her discomfort to Senator Frye-Mueller and her hovering, smiling husband? Because it’s hard to tell the boss to shut up:
SENATOR BOLIN: Thank you, Mr. Chair. At any time during any of these — during the one incident and others, did you ever indicate to the Senator, can you please stop talking about this?
EMPLOYEE: Mr. Chair. Quite frankly, I don’t feel like I can say that I am — that — I don’t feel like I have the ability to say that because of my role as a staffer and that you all have that relationship of being my — I view you all as my bosses, and I don’t believe that if I were to upset you in that way, that you may decide not to work with me or something to that effect. So no, I did not [LRC employee, 2023.01.31].
The accuser says she never wanted this affair to go public, because the LRC’s job is to remain in the background:
SENATOR LARSON: This is kind of a follow-on question to that, but had you, in your mind, any expectation of the amount of attention that this has gotten in the media? How has been your — obviously mentally it’s been extremely difficult. Was it worse than you thought? How did you handle that?
EMPLOYEE: Mr. Chair. It’s been extremely difficult,
for the reason I am legislative staff and I enjoy the background. I do not want the lime light. I leave that to all of you, and you all do it very well. I don’t want to be in the news. That was not my intention. I just would like to take a step back and just say that when I gave my statement to my supervisor in the LRC, my intention was this was not to get in the news. My intention was just to make my supervisors aware that I was uncomfortable, that I thought this matter needed their attention, but in no way, no, I did not want this in the news, no [LRC employee, 2023.01.31].
As far as we know, the LRC employee was back at her job last week, keeping her head down and serving the Legislature and the people. Senator Frye-Mueller was not, not entirely, as she apparently skipped Friday’s committee meetings and Senate floor debate.