Boulton's conduct was unacceptable. His response is not credible

Three women have described in detail incidents of non-consensual touching by State Senator Nate Boulton, Brianne Pfannenstiel reported today for the Des Moines Register. Boulton did not deny the women’s accounts but said they did not match his recollection. He also asserted his alleged behavior “in social settings” was not comparable to harassment or assault in the workplace.

Boulton’s alleged conduct was unacceptable. His distinction is not credible. His political career is no longer tenable.

If you haven’t read Pfannenstiel’s scoop in its entirety, do that now. Cliffs Notes version: Sharon Wegner described how Boulton repeatedly put his hand on her buttocks in a Des Moines bar in November 2015, when Boulton was a prominent local attorney and a candidate for the Iowa Senate. Ash Bruxvoort was present that night and confirmed Wegner’s account. Jessica Millage and a woman who preferred not to be named spoke to Pfannenstiel about Boulton pressing his erection against their thighs while they talked in a bar approximately 15 years ago, when Boulton was in law school.

Speaking to Des Moines Register staff this morning (full transcript here), Boulton didn’t deny the events occurred.

“So, I’m not going to add any context to anything. I think if I add context it quickly becomes victim-blaming, and I don’t want to go down that path. All I can say is if someone felt that I did something inappropriate, I apologize for that.”

Register: So, you don’t want to walk through any of these cases and talk about what the women are alleging?

Boulton: “If you want to share that, that’s fine. But I’m not going to dispute anything that someone has said or how they’ve felt about anything that I said or did. That’s not what I’m here to do. I want to make it very clear: This isn’t about my perspective. This isn’t about my position. This is about someone feeling like something happened that was inappropriate, and I respect that and I offer an apology.” […]

Register: I’m sorry, but you’re not denying that these events occurred. Did these events occur?

Boulton: “So, I don’t have the same recollection. But I am not going to offer any additional context to this, other than to say if someone’s perspective is that it was inappropriate and I crossed a line and I misread a situation in a social setting, I do apologize.”

Register: If the conduct described were true, do you think that should disqualify someone for public office?

Boulton: “In a social setting, as it has been identified to me, I think there is a definite difference. I think there is room for a conversation to be had here. I think we all very clearly understand the bright line that exists in, again, those positions of power and influence. Those employment settings. I think in the social setting, there is room for a conversation to be had, and I hope this is a teachable moment for young men as this comes forward. But I also hope that there’s room for something between victim-blaming and life-ruining on both sides.” […]

The Boulton campaign released a statement echoing the distinction between what happens in “social settings” and abusive or harassing behavior by men who use positions of power to exploit women.

“I want to clearly and unmistakably apologize to the women who have come forward,” said Boulton. “Regardless of the difference in my memory or the context of the situation, it is not my place to disqualify what these women felt at the time or in hindsight. While this is an embarrassing conversation for me to have today, I think it is important we have it, and I hope young men can learn about gauging conduct in social settings and continue to learn about and engage in the discussion.”

Nate Boulton’s behavior in the social settings referenced in the article, as described by women who were social peers, in no way equates to the disgraceful actions taken by men across the country and in the Iowa Statehouse who have assaulted, harassed, and threatened women with workplace consequences. These are not assertions that he used positions of power, threatened retaliation or reprisal, or that he was in any position to do so. These are situations outside the employment context and were prior to holding public office. Still, this is a lesson to all young men to be respectful and aware of their actions toward women and how those actions may make women feel regardless of the settings or context, and take responsibility for any actions that have offended others.

Arguably, it would be even worse if Boulton had put his hand or erection on a woman he directly supervised. But non-consensual touching is never acceptable under any circumstances.

Anyway, it’s a stretch to suggest that Boulton had no power in these situations, especially in 2015. From Pfannenstiel’s story:

Wegner was about a year-and-a-half out of Drake Law School at the time and Boulton already was gaining prominence in the Des Moines legal, political and social circles she was starting to navigate. Wegner said she was hesitant to make a scene that night, Nov. 20, and hoped Boulton would pick up on her nonverbal signals. […]

About six months after that night at Wooly’s, Wegner said she emailed Boulton seeking guidance on a pair of workers’ compensation cases she had picked up. Boulton specializes in that area of the law, and he was the only experienced workers’ compensation attorney she knew, she said.

“I do remember being scared to go to his office and like silently praying in my head, ‘Please don’t close the door,’” Wegner said. “And he didn’t, and it was very professional and above board. But walking in I felt uneasy, and it was one of those, ‘Why did you put yourself in that situation, Sharon?’”

Wegner said she considered coming forward for months but hoped the allegations would come out without her participation. She said she was swayed, in part, by news that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — a professed champion of women’s rights — resigned after four women with whom he was romantically involved accused him of physically assaulting them.

Boulton was a well-known attorney with relevant expertise for Wegner’s clients. No woman should have to worry about whether she might be touched sexually or otherwise harassed when she is just trying to do her job.

In the first Democratic gubernatorial debate, Boulton talked about representing victims of workplace harassment and sponsoring legislation on equal pay and other issues of importance to women. That’s all good, but it doesn’t negate his own conduct.

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, an early Boulton endorser who has been outspoken about Republican sexual harassment scandals, released this written statement about an hour after the Register published the bombshell story online.

“Iowans should not tolerate sexual harassment, and women who come forward to tell their stories show great courage.

“The allegations reported in the Des Moines Register are a serious matter for Senator Boulton. These allegations are detailed and compelling.

“Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be tolerated by anyone, anywhere.”

That statement stopped short of calling on Boulton to end his gubernatorial campaign or resign from the legislature. At the very least, Petersen should call for a full investigation. We’re unlikely to have learned everything there is to know about Boulton’s possible misconduct, given that Wegner told Pfannenstiel she had “hoped the allegations would come out without her participation.”

It’s too late for Boulton’s name to be dropped from the Democratic primary ballot. Early voting began on May 7, so many Iowans have already cast ballots for him. But he should realize he can’t be the Democratic standard-bearer against the first woman governor.

More important, he should stop suggesting that what happens to women in bars “in no way equates” to unacceptable behavior in the workplace. If the phrase “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment has meaning, it must apply to any man putting any part of his body on any unwilling woman, anywhere. Someone who doesn’t understand that simple fact doesn’t belong in the Iowa legislature.

I enclose below other candidates’ reaction to today’s revelations, in the order I received them. I will update this post as needed.

Statement from gubernatorial candidate Cathy Glasson: “These reports of sexual misconduct about Senator Boulton in the Des Moines Register today are extremely disturbing. We need a Governor we can trust to stand up and fight for fair treatment for Iowa women. Nate Boulton’s behavior disqualifies him from leading our state government.”

Statement from gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell’s campaign manager Michelle Gajewski: “Fred has been very clear that sexual harassment and misconduct has no place in our society and will not be tolerated.”

Statement from third district Congressional candidate Eddie Mauro:

This kind of behavior has been tolerated and excused for far too long. The behavior alleged by these brave women is not suitable for the leader of our state, our country, or anyone who wants to participate in contemporary society. Whether you’re in a boardroom or in a bar, women’s bodies and personal space are their own.

Additionally, I won’t tolerate sexual harassment from inside or outside of my company – and we should hold the entire Democratic ticket to the same standard. Employees, investors, contractors, customers and everyone interacting with my company are subject to a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. Like I’ve said, if you are going to “talk the talk,” we have to “walk the walk.” As a candidate, I’m holding my staff, consultants and partners on the ticket to the same standard.

The Iowa Senate should launch an immediate investigation into the pattern alleged by the Des Moines Register. For this to be the teachable moment the Senator desires, we as a country, a state and a community must be clear that you don’t get to act this way and still be a Governor or State Senator. It is unacceptable at any age and in any role and there will be consequences to this behavior. In this case, those consequences are that Senator Boulton must immediately drop out of the race for Governor and immediately resign his Senate seat.

Statement from gubernatorial candidate John Norris: “Let me be very clear, there is no place for sexual misconduct or harassment in politics or anywhere else. This behavior is unacceptable and intolerable no matter where it takes place. My heart goes out to the women who endured this behavior and I applaud their bravery in coming forward, and every woman who has come forward in the Me Too movement before them.”

UPDATE: State Representative Art Staed posted on Facebook,

When I heard the news today regarding Iowa gubernatorial candidate, Senator Nate Boulton, I was shocked and disappointed.

As long as I have known Senator Boulton I have seen only appropriate and respectful encounters with everyone. However, due to the news about his past misconduct I have withdraw[n] my endorsement of Senator Boulton for governor of Iowa.

State Representative Bruce Hunter withdrew his endorsement as well.

Gubernatorial candidate Andy McGuire said in a statement, “As I have stated from the beginning of my campaign, sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind should not and cannot be tolerated. Period.”

LATER UPDATE: McGuire called on Boulton to end his campaign during her opening remarks at a candidate forum sponsored by the Washington, Keokuk, Jefferson and Henry County Democrats on the evening of May 23. From a statement released by the campaign:

“My name is Andy McGuire, and I want to be your next Governor. And I want to make one thing absolutely clear. As I have stated from the beginning of my campaign, sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind should not and cannot be tolerated. Period.

“It does not matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, a man or a woman, no one deserves to feel the sting of being devalued as a human being.

“We cannot criticize others and condone such behavior inside the Democratic Party. It’s not enough to apologize and move on. For the good of the Democratic Party and for the good of the future of our state, Nate Boulton should lead by example and end his campaign for Governor.

“And I pledge to you right here and now that as your Governor, I will change a culture that says it’s okay to harass and abuse another and get away with it.”

State Senator Pam Jochum, who appeared in multiple television commercials for Boulton, said in a statement, “This is not the Nate Boulton I know. He has always been respectful toward women in the time I’ve known him. Having said that, sexual misconduct is never OK, especially when that person is in a position of authority and the public’s trust. The allegations leveled against Nate in the Des Moines Register story are serious and compelling. He has an important decision to make.”

College and Young Democrats of Iowa released this statement on the evening of May 23.

The College and Young Democrats of Iowa (CYDI) stand with the survivors of all forms of violence, and will always prioritize peoples’ safety and well-being over anything else.

The Democratic Party is one of inclusion. Sexual harassment or violence is antithetical to this mission, and as such must always be strongly condemned and rejected.

CYDI takes the recent allegations against Nate Boulton seriously, and believe it is our duty to respond with appropriate action. We therefore call for his immediate withdrawal from the gubernatorial election, and resignation from the Iowa Senate.

As the party that stands up for those who have been marginalized, forgotten, or ignored, Democrats have a special obligation to root out sexual harassment and assault from our own community, create a safe and respectful environment for all, and provide support for those who are affected by these crimes. We will actively support and protect any member of our community who comes forward with information or allegations about misconduct.

Signed,

Olivia Habinck, President
Taylor Blair, Vice-President
Ashton Ayers, Political Director
Abby Schulte, Membership Director
Joshua Dausener, Finance Director

MAY 24 UPDATES: Boulton announced in a 9:00 am press release that he is suspending his campaign.

“I am so proud of the campaign that my staff, my supporters, and I ran in the past year,” said Boulton. “I was and still am inspired every day by the people who have chosen to fight alongside me in the Senate and on the campaign trail to share a positive vision forward for this incredible state of Iowa.”

“Democrats must win in November so we can begin to turn our state around,” said Boulton. “We join together to support the nominee and elect Democrats up and down the ticket. I will do all II can to support that mission and will never stop fighting for progressive causes.”

“These the last 48 hours have been trying. I again offer an apology to those whom I have harmed in any way. It is my hope there is some positive that can come from this moment as we strive to be the better people we can be in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I know that will be my task moving on from here.”

“Thank you to everyone who stood with me in this campaign, especially the countless working families of the labor movement who joined me in this race and must now continue to fight for their way of life in this state. While I depart this campaign for governor with a heavy heart, I remain resolved to the greater cause creating a future Iowa we all can be proud to call our home.”

Minutes later, AFSCME sent reporters the following statement.

DES MOINES – AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan issued the following statement in response to Nate Boulton’s decision to suspend his campaign for Governor:

“As a union that believes in the dignity of all work and all workers, we take allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously.

“Who to vote for has always been and remains each AFSCME member’s personal choice. After following the democratic processes of our organization, including meeting with our Executive Board and PEOPLE Committee, we support Senator Boulton’s decision to suspend his campaign for Governor.

“The top priority and ultimate goal this fall remains the same: electing a pro-worker Governor who will lift up Iowa’s working people – and recognize that unions are part of the solution. The Reynolds administration has made slaughtering the working class a point of pride and must be defeated.”

Twitter user TheHawk, a former dues-paying AFSCME member, raised an important point yesterday: “It’s simply not plausible that AFSCME leadership is hearing about this problem for the first time. If they are, then that is just plain negligence. We have a lot of work to do to regain the trust of the rank and file at AFSCME and of people in the state.”

Several candidates said at a forum in Brighton last night that Boulton should leave the race. Will Greenberg reported for the Iowa City Press-Citizen,

In their opening statements at the forum, McGuire and Wilburn called for Boulton to end his campaign, while the other candidates offered strong words against sexual harassment.

“No one deserves to feel the sting of being devalued,” McGuire said. “It’s not good enough to apologize and move on. For the good of the Democratic Party, and for the good of the future of our state, Nate Boulton should lead by example by ending his campaign.”

Wilburn lauded the women in the Register story for their bravery in making their stories public.

“It takes a tremendous amount of courage for someone to come forward, especially during a political campaign, especially when it’s for the executive officer in the state,” Wilburn said.

In an interview with the Press-Citizen, Norris said Boulton shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee and that “I don’t know how he stays in” the race, but said he would leave the decision to drop out to his campaign.

“Those who are in public service have to hold a higher standard,” Norris said. “I’ve never been a questioner of women, especially when there’s corroborators.” […]

Glasson briefly mentioned Boulton in her opening remarks, saying “we need a governor that women trust in this state, that’s going to stand up and fight for fair treatment for all women, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

Hubbell did not attend that forum but told the Des Moines Register on May 24,

“Every Iowan, especially women, deserves to be treated with equal respect and dignity in every setting, and anything less will not be tolerated,” Hubbell said in a statement provided to the Register. “Our elected leaders are role models, and that’s why, I believe Nate Boulton needs to make the decision to withdraw his candidacy for governor and resign from the Iowa Senate.”

About 20 minutes after Boulton ended his campaign, Petersen released a new statement calling for his resignation from the Iowa Senate.

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable whether it occurs in a social or professional setting. What we have learned in the last 24 hours makes it clear to me that Senator Boulton should also resign his position in the Iowa Senate.

“If he chooses not to do so, I will support a full, independent investigation into allegations against him.”

State Senator Liz Mathis, another early endorser of Boulton’s campaign for governor, posted on Twitter May 24, “I stand by my leader and agree. These are serious allegations of sexual misconduct. There is NO time when behavior as described is acceptable – either in the workplace or social setting.”

LATER UPDATE: In an interview with KCCI-TV’s Cynthia Fodor, Boulton made clear that he does not intend to resign his Iowa Senate seat anytime soon. He said that because of the “tight timeline” before the primary, he felt he needed to decide quickly to end his campaign. He said Petersen has informed him about the Senate investigation process, but he wants to take some time to consider his future in the legislature.

Speaking to Fodor, Boulton repeated his apology to anyone who felt disrespected or uncomfortable and again refused to deny or confirmed that the events occurred. However, he continued to draw a distinction between what happens in “workplace situations” from what he is accused of doing in “social interactions.”

During the same interview, Andrea Boulton said the way her husband has been characterized these past 24 hours “is not by any means an accurate representation of who he is.” She said she feels for the women who came forward, whom her husband made uncomfortable. Women should have support and should be able to “have their voices heard,” but she said “this quick jump to judgment is something that we really need to take a step back on.” She said a few minutes later she still supports him “100 percent” and expects him to continue to be a “solid senator” in the future.

Third district Congressional candidate Pete D’Alessandro said in a written statement after Boulton suspended his campaign,

Although Nate Boulton did the correct thing I believe it’s important to point out two things that should not be overlooked.

The women who came forward are not public figures. This was not an easy act as well as a courageous act by them.

Secondly, I hope the young people who worked so tirelessly for Sen. Boulton do not lose the passion for the causes that brought you to the campaign.Your work mattered and it’s that effort that will be remembered and move us forward.

Iowa Democratic Party leader Troy Price issued this statement during the afternoon of May 24:

“The Iowa Democratic Party has always been and will always be a place where everyone is welcome and included in the process of making our state and country a better place. Standing up for those who have been marginalized, forgotten, or ignored is a core value of the Democratic Party, as such, we as a community have a special obligation to strongly condemn every incident of sexual harassment, particularly when it occurs within our own party.

I admire those who had the courage to step forward, and I believe Senator Boulton did the right thing by suspending his campaign. We hope that he will prioritize the values of the Iowa Democratic Party, and every Democrat we represent, as he makes his decision about his future. Whatever decision he makes, we support a full and thorough investigation by the Iowa Senate into this matter.

We can and must do better.

This is not the end of the conversation. We firmly believe that the events of the last 24 hours are a step towards creating the social change we so desperately need; but, it won’t happen without folks like you stepping up to be part of the solution. Please help us move forward.

Our doors and our ears are open: http://iowademocrats.org/contact/.”

Resources for Survivors of Sexual Harassment (h/t Feminist Majority Foundation):

9 to 5: National Association of Working Women
1-800-522-0925

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1-800-669-4000

Equal Rights Advocates
415-621-0672
1-800-839-4372
24 HR line: 415-621-0505

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
213-629-2512

National Women’s Law Center
202-588-5180

U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau
1-800-827-5335

Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline
1-800-284-7821

Iowa Victim Service Call Center
1-800-770-1650

Senator Joe Bolkcom, also an early endorser of Boulton for governor, posted on Facebook May 29,

As a supporter, colleague and friend of Senator Nate Boulton I was extremely
disappointed and saddened to learn of his alleged sexual misconduct.

Sexual harassment is unacceptable. Sexual harassment should not be tolerated by anyone in any setting.

I agree with Senate Democratic leader Janet Petersen and my constituents that have contacted me to call for Senator Boulton to step down from the Iowa Senate.

Top image: photo by Stefanie Running of Nate Boulton speaking at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Fall Gala, November 2017.

  • Unions?

    All the unions that are backing Boulton can save face easily by backing the other union candidate in the race: Cathy Glasson.

    • Exactamundo!

      Cathy is the only logical choice for AFSCME et.al. If they hedge their bets with Hubbell, it will not go well for them down the line. A rare opportunity for labor/progressive unity in our dear bleeding Iowa. Reynolds has not one leg to stand on when in comes to abetting abhorrent abuses by addled alpha males.
      Unions, put aside your small intra-wars and let’s win the big one in November. Now…about John Norris for Lieutenant Gov.

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