Does #MeToo Matter? Of 19 State Candidates Facing Accusations, Only 2 Lost

On the heels of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, these results raise questions about how alleged misconduct factors into voters’ decisions.
by | November 7, 2018
Jeff Klein
New York state Sen. Jeff Klein lost his reelection bid on Tuesday. He has been accused of forcibly kissed a former staffer in 2015. (AP/Hans Pennink)

Last Updated at Nov. 13 at 2:41 p.m. ET

In the 13 months since sexual misconduct allegations were first brought against famed movie producer Harvey Weinstein last year, the #MeToo movement has moved beyond Hollywood. It has brought attention to harassment on college campuses, in corporations and within political institutions.

Since the beginning of 2017, about 75 state lawmakers have faced accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct. Many of them resigned or ended their reelection campaigns, but at least 27 accused candidates were on ballots this year, and 19 survived primary campaigns to run in the general election on Tuesday, according to a Governing calculation.

Of those 19, all but two won their races.

Among the successful bids is U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who will be Minnesota’s next attorney general after winning a hotly contested race. Ellison’s candidacy was consumed by allegations against him of domestic violence, which he denied.

Democratic California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia -- a vocal MeToo advocate -- was reelected with 68 percent of the vote despite allegations that she groped a former legislative staffer. (Legislative investigators could not confirm the groping charge in May but later concluded she used language that violated the Assembly's sexual harassment policy. She was removed from her committee assignments and ordered to participate in sensitivity training.)

On the heels of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, these results raise questions about how misconduct allegations factor into voters’ choices. For many voters, it seems like they don't.

“People have a tendency to make excuses for the people they like. We are talking about rape culture, which is hard,” says Michele Dauber, a professor with Stanford Law School and chair of the Enough is Enough Voter Project, a political action committee launched this year to oppose candidates facing accusations. “Our group is trying to change the way that voters think about these kinds of issues.”

For Dauber, Tuesday’s outcomes were “mixed.” Enough is Enough targeted six lawmakers in state and congressional races that are facing allegations themselves or have “a poor track record” of advocating for misconduct survivors. Of this group, three won their races, while three others were defeated.

One winning lawmaker is Republican Devon Mathis, a California assemblyman accused of multiple sexual misconduct claims that he denies. He was ordered to undergo sexual harassment and sensitivity training for frequent sexual “locker room” talk. Republican Tennessee state Rep. David Byrd also won Tuesday, despite public complaints by three women that Byrd repeatedly groped them when he was their high school basketball coach more than 30 years ago.

One of the accused lawmakers who lost reelection was New York state Sen. Jeff Klein. He was defeated in September's Democratic primary but chose to continue in the race as an Independence Party candidate. Facing allegations that he forcibly kissed a former staffer in 2015, Klein lost again on Tuesday, garnering just 7 percent of the vote.

Republican Washington state Sen. Joe Fain conceded to his Democratic challenger Mona Das in a close race. In September, a woman tweeted that Fain raped her after a 2007 party in Washington, D.C. A state Senate committee investigation into the incident is still pending, though lawmakers are considering whether to continue in light of his concession.   

Another accused Washington state lawmaker won his reelection race, though he faces pressure from party leaders to step down amid several allegations. Republican Rep. Matt Manweller declined to drop out of the general election, but he promised to resign before the next legislative session.

The overall high success rate of these accused lawmakers underscores two possible challenges for the political #MeToo reckoning, says Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University–Camden and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics.

“Many people don’t know a lot about their state legislative candidates,” says Dittmar. “So I think for one we may be seeing that a lot of people are able to get by because people might not know that much.”

Secondly, she adds, society is “still grappling with allegations and what counts as legitimate enough to hold people back from political office.” Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings captured this tension as President Trump and Senate Republicans questioned the credibility of decades-old allegations.

When it comes to combating sexual misconduct in politics, about half of states have taken action to strengthen sexual harassment policies for people working in state politics. Still, the midterm results indicate a need for continued conversations about gender dynamics in both politics and society as a whole, says Kimberly Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit that advocates for women’s equity.

“To women who may feel either ecstatic or like staying in bed and putting the covers over their head: I think there’s still good reason to be optimistic in the long run,” Churches says. "This is one midterm election for us to continue this dialogue going forward.”

Dauber also says she feels positive about the momentum of MeToo. She says her group will take time to analyze these results and then will push ahead to 2020.

“This is a long-term strategy for change, and it would be an unrealistic expectation to win everything out of the gate," says Dauber. “We’re in a period of transformation on this issue, but we’re confident that history is on our side.”

 

Candidate State Result Vote Share
Assemb. Devon Mathis (R) California Won 61.0%
Assemb. Autumn Burke (D) California Won 81.7%
Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D) California Won 76.6%
Assemb. Cristina Garcia (D) California Won 68.4%
Rep. James Holtzclaw (R) Idaho Unopposed  
Rep. Lou Lang (D) Illinois Unopposed  
Rep. Jeff Hoover (R) Kentucky Unopposed  
Rep. Michael Meredith (R) Kentucky Won 61.5%
Rep. Jim Stewart (R) Kentucky Won 79.5%
Del. Curt Anderson (D) Maryland Won 27.3%
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D) Minnesota Won 49.8%
Rep. Rod Hamilton (R) Minnesota Won 66.9%
Sen. Jeff Klein (I) New York Lost 7.4%
Rep. Rick Perales (R) Ohio Won 59.8%
Rep. Bill Seitz (R) Ohio Won 69.7%
Rep. Tom Caltagirone (D) Pennsylvania Won 80.1%
Rep. David Byrd (R) Tennessee Won 77.8%
Sen. Joe Fain (R) Washington Lost 49.5%
Rep. Matt Manweller (R) Washington Won (Will not serve) 64.5%
NOTE: Results current as of Nov. 13, 2:30 P.M. ET