After Sexual Misconduct Claims, Washington State Representative Won't Serve Another Term

by | September 25, 2018

By Mike Baker

Besieged by allegations of sexual misconduct and facing pressure from Republican colleagues to step down, Washington state Rep. Matt Manweller said Monday that he will remain in the race for re-election but will resign before the next legislative session, even if he wins.

The Republican from the Ellensburg -- who has long been dismissive of the allegations against him, saying they were false, trivial or politically motivated -- said his family has faced a difficult past year, during which he has battled a series of complaints about his past interactions with young women and teenagers.

"Moving forward, I am primarily focused on creating a safe and healthy environment for my family, in particular, my wife and two children," Manweller said in a statement to some media outlets, including the Yakima Herald-Republic. He did not respond to text messages from The Seattle Times.

Manweller became one of the most visible faces of the #MeToo movement as it swept through the statehouse in Olympia, though most of the allegations against him involved his time as a high-school teacher and later a college professor. A Seattle Times story this past year examined allegations that Manweller had sexually harassed students at Central Washington University, where he taught political science.

In the wake of the story, the university launched a new investigation that led to his termination, and more allegations about his conduct surfaced. This past week, a story by NW News Network detailed the account of a woman from Idaho who said Manweller, who had been her teacher in high school, had sex with her when she was 17.

Manweller has been in the Legislature since 2012 and rose to be the assistant floor leader in the House until GOP leaders asked him to step down from that position last year. He is up for re-election this year and received 63 percent of the vote in the primary this past month, well ahead of Democratic candidate Sylvia Hammond.

Manweller's name cannot be removed from the November ballot. If he is re-elected, Manweller said he plans to resign before the legislative session begins.

"For the Republican Party, however, it is important that I am re-elected because the law would require that my seat be filled with another Republican," Manweller said.

Officials with the Washington Secretary of State have said that if Manweller wins the election but decides not to hold the seat, the district's Republican precinct committee officers would choose three nominees for the seat, and local county council members in the district would have to decide who the new lawmaker would be.

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, who called for Manweller to resign this past week, said Monday that he didn't have a deadline in mind on when Manweller should step down and was pleased with the plans.

"I'm happy that he's deciding to find a way to say goodbye," Wilcox said.

Wilcox said that he knows Manweller to be a devoted father and that he's been an effective legislator for his district. He said a recent conversation with Manweller was private and painful and somber, as Manweller was figuring out how he can best take care of his family.

"I absolutely wish him the best in that," Wilcox said. Wilcox said he didn't have any immediate candidates in mind to replace Manweller.

In his statement Monday, Manweller again took a swipe at the nature of the accusations against him, noting that the most recent allegation was from a relationship 22 years ago. It showed, he said, "there is no limit to how far back in time one can go to dig up such allegations."

That allegation stemmed from Manweller's time as a high-school teacher in Idaho. A woman speaking to the NW News Network on condition of anonymity said she and Manweller had a sexual relationship that began shortly after her graduation when she was still 17 years old. Manweller had been one of her teachers. He has denied the details of the woman's account.

Manweller later worked in Utah, where he worked at a high school and met his first wife, who was a student. They married shortly after her graduation.

A series of women have also accused Manweller of inappropriate conduct in his job teaching at Central Washington University, including students who said he touched them and propositioned them.

The allegations resulted in three investigations at the university. The university fired Manweller after the most recent one was completed. He is seeking $2 million as part of a claim against the university.

(c)2018 The Seattle Times