If recent allegations are any indication, Texas lawmakers are having a hard time keeping their hands and their comments to themselves.
The U.S. House Ethics Committee announced last week its plans to expand an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas.
Farenthold’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, alleged in a 2014 federal lawsuit she was sexually harassed and fired after complaining of a hostile work environment. Farenthold settled the case for $84,000 in 2015, but didn’t admit to the complaint, which included allegations that he told another aide that he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about Greene.
The ethics committee is also reviewing allegations that Farenthold made sexually inappropriate comments to other members of his staff.
The Office of Congressional Ethics had already examined Greene’s allegations and recommended that the ethics committee dismiss the claim. That office hasn’t received the assistance of Greene, who has said she just wants to put the matter behind her.
Farenthold said he looks forwards to the ethics committee’s investigation.
“Once all the facts are released, I’m confident this matter will once and for all be settled and resolved,” Farenthold said. “I’m also pleased the Committee on Ethics recognizes, as per their statement, that I have cooperated fully with the committee’s investigation and has acknowledged a decision has been delayed because of difficulty obtaining live testimony from other witnesses.”
Farenthold’s case may be the most high profile, but it’s far from the only one involving Lone Star State lawmakers in a time when victims are opening allegations of abuse and harassment — resulting in the downfall of such alleged perpetrators as Hollywood heavyweights Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein and former Capitol Hill denizens Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers. Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, among the most conservative members of the House, resigned his post last week after releasing a statement acknowledging he had asked two female members of his office to bear his surrogate children.
A recent Daily Beast article shed light on the alleged misdeeds of Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) and Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston), both alleged to have inappropriately touched and kissed women against their will many times during their years in the Texas Legislature.
“He put his tongue down my throat,” one alleged victim told the outlet of Uresti. “I don’t remember how long it was or even if I said anything. I think I pushed him off and got in my car.”
Miles is also alleged to have shown a repeated pattern of intimidation, including brandishing a gun, while Uresti faces numerous felony charges of securities and wire fraud.
State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) told Daily Beast that the recent allegations of sexual harassment among Texas lawmakers have surprised her.
“I feel very naive,” Howard said. “I’ve always heard stories, but it appears to be more pervasive and more assaultive than I had imagined.”
The Texas House updated its sexual harassment policy earlier this month after the spate of allegations, which includes laying out in more detail what constitutes sexual harassment, strengthening protections for the accused against retaliation, and naming specific steps on how to report inappropriate behavior.
“One of the things the women were particularly concerned about is making sure this is a policy that shows the respect that this situation deserves,” Howard said at the hearing. “That it gives enough information that a person feels comfortable in knowing that if they do find themselves the subject of harassment, that they have a policy that gives them clear guidance and also gives them some certainty that there will be action taken.”