By Rod Boshart

On the same day Democrat Nate Boulton suspended his bid for governor, pressure was building Thursday inside and outside of his party for him to resign the Iowa Senate seat he has held since January 2017 in light of sexual misconduct allegations against him.

In a television interview, Boulton said it was important to make a quick but difficult decision about his campaign, given the short time until the June 5 primary. But he said he believes he and his wife have more time to assess his political and Senate future going forward.

"We have some time now and we're going to use that time," Boulton told KCCI-TV. "We don't have a timeline. We're going to make the right decision for us and for my constituents."

Shortly after Boulton suspended his gubernatorial campaign with less than two weeks until the June 5 primary election, Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines issued a call for him to step down as a state senator, representing District 16 around Des Moines, as well.

"Sexual harassment is unacceptable whether it occurs in a social or professional setting," Petersen said in a strongly worded statement. "What we have learned in the last 24 hours makes it clear to me that Sen. Boulton should also resign his position in the Iowa Senate," she added. "If he chooses not to do so, I will support a full, independent investigation into allegations against him."

Boulton, 38, a first-term senator, was forced to halt his gubernatorial bid less than 24 hours after he became embroiled in scandal. The Des Moines Register reported Wednesday that three women -- all lawyers and two of them law school classmates of his -- said he had inappropriately accosted them.

According to the Register, one woman said Boulton repeatedly grabbed her buttocks in a bar in 2015 while his wife was nearby. The other women said that at social gatherings while they were in law school about a decade and a half ago, Boulton, while clothed, repeatedly pressed his erect penis into their thighs.

"I'm not going to dispute anything that they feel," Boulton said in the TV interview.

He and his wife, Andrea, said they had different recollections, but he insisted he was not going to deny anything, validate anything or make excuses.

"It is devastating to me that anything that I said or did crossed that line because I know me, and I didn't do that in any sort of intentional way and if I misread a situation, I apologize for it. But it doesn't matter. I'm not trying to make excuses, I'm not trying to change anyone's account. All I'm here to say is I'm sorry, I apologize and I understand," he said.

Boulton said the past 48 hours had been trying for him and his wife, and suspending his run for governor "was a difficult decision to make, but I believe it's the right decision. I do."

Andrea Boulton said she backed her husband "100 percent without a doubt," called him a "solid senator" and believed he was the best choice to be Iowa's next governor.

According to polls, Boulton had been running second to Fred Hubbell in a six-person race for the nomination to face GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds in November.

Boulton said he was proud of the campaign he ran in seeking his party's nomination for governor and thanked his staff and supporters for their help in the months put in to raise money and backing for his ill-fated bid. "Democrats must win in November so we can begin to turn our state around," he said. "We join together to support the nominee and elect Democrats up and down the ticket. I will do all I can to support that mission and will never stop fighting for progressive causes."

Boulton's colleagues in the Senate said his first order of business after suspending his campaign should be to vacate his Senate seat.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, tweeted her agreement with Petersen's position that Boulton should resign, saying "these are serious allegations of sexual misconduct. There is NO time when behavior as described is acceptable -- either in the workplace or social setting."

Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, echoed that sentiment at a Thursday morning GOP meet-and-greet event in Sioux City, calling on Boulton to "do the right thing" and resign from the Senate.

"There is no place for sexual harassment in the Iowa Senate. Those aren't my words, those are the words of Nate Boulton from the Iowa Senate floor." said Bertrand, who noted that Boulton criticized former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix and Senate Republicans for sexual misconduct on multiple occasions during floor speeches in the past legislative session.

"If you grandstand and preach a no-tolerance policy for political points, then I ask how Sen. Boulton can now continue in the Iowa Senate," Bertrand said in a statement. "Nate's inability to deny or refute these allegations is not only disturbing, but hypocritical."

The women who made allegations against Boulton apparently did not file complaints with law enforcement authorities or professional licensure boards against the Des Moines lawyer.

"We've received no complaints," said Polk County Attorney John Sarcone. "We would need a victim to come forward and make a complaint," he added, noting the statutes of limitations of the misdemeanors likely involved would range from one to three years.

Iowa court rules established by the Judicial Branch say a complaint of unethical conduct by an attorney would have to be filed with the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board, which keeps its investigative steps confidential, said court system spokesman Steve Davis.

But no orders for disciplinary action against Boulton have been made public.

(c)2018 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)