Sexual Harassment Training Added to Kansas Democratic Lawmakers' Schedule

by | October 30, 2017 AT 9:30 AM

By Jonathan Shorman

All Kansas House Democrats will receive sexual harassment prevention training in December after multiple women stepped forward with allegations of sexual harassment at the Kansas Capitol and the wider world of Kansas politics.

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said Thursday that if a determination is made that a Democratic lawmaker committed sexual harassment, the lawmaker will be stripped of committee assignments and other privileges.

"Like so many of us around the state, I've been giving the issue of sexual harassment a lot of thought in the wake of recent allegations across the country," Ward said in a statement. "I've concluded the Kansas Legislature can do more to prevent sexual harassment in the Capitol."

Ward's announcement comes after Abbie Hodgson, a former Democratic legislative staffer, alleged that she had been propositioned by a lawmaker in 2015 and that lawmakers were relying on female interns as designated drivers after lobbyist-hosted cocktail hours.

Ward, who is running for governor, also said he will propose strengthening the Legislature's sexual harassment policy by creating an independent compliance officer to investigate allegations of harassment and determine whether harassment happened.

In the wake of Hodgson's revelations, more women have stepped forward with allegations of sexual misconduct in Kansas politics, including the daughter of a former Kansas lawmaker.

Kelly Schodorf, an attorney in Wichita and the daughter of former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, said that she was sexually assaulted while working on a congressional campaign in 2010.

"We were all hanging out at the campaign office after the election night. And I went up to the rooftop... and I realized when I got to the top the Democratic consultant -- who was not from Kansas, he was brought in -- had followed me," Schodorf recounted in a phone call Thursday.

"And he forcefully tried to come onto me. Grabbing my wrists and tried to kiss me... He had me pinned against the wall," Schodorf said.

Schodorf got loose from the man and a friend drove her home, she said. "I would consider it sexual assault," she said.

Schodorf's mother had lost the Republican Primary in the Kansas 4th congressional district to Mike Pompeo, who is now serving as President Donald Trump's CIA director.

After her mother's loss, Kelly Schodorf went onto to work as a consultant for the Democratic candidate in that race, former state Rep. Raj Goyle.

Schodorf said that she informed the candidate of the assault and that the candidate immediately took her to see a Kansas Democratic Party executive committee member.

"And nothing ever happened," she said.

Goyle confirmed the incident in an email Thursday evening, but he did not weigh in on why no further action was ever taken on the matter.

"I have zero tolerance for this conduct. I was appalled when Kelly told me what had happened on Election Night and I'm proud we took immediate action in response. She has my total support. I am glad the culture is shifting and victims feel comfortable speaking out," he said.

State Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said that he was serving as 4th district party chairman at the time and was informed about the incident by Goyle.

"I did become aware the next day, I believe it was the next day, that an out-of-state consultant who was employed by the Goyle for Congress campaign had made an improper advance," he said.

Carmichael, an attorney, said that he recalls speaking to Goyle about the incident, but does not remember speaking directly to Schodorf or giving any legal advice on how to handle the situation.

"The consultant involved was out of state... and obviously was terminated," he said.

Asked about whether he reported the incident to the police, Carmichael replied, "Quite honestly, I didn't understand it to be my responsibility."

He noted that the individual was employed by the Goyle campaign.

Schodorf would not reveal the name of the Missouri-based consultant, who she said harassed at least one other woman on the campaign. "This guy was a predator."

Schodorf had joined the Goyle campaign with Scott Poor, a former Kansas Republican Party executive director, who confirmed that she alerted him and Goyle about the incident. He said the alleged perpetrator "floated through a bunch of different political campaigns in Kansas" and that he would have reservations about working with the man again.

"When I work in politics I employ young people because that's who the worker bees are, and I wouldn't do that again if he was going to be in the office," he said.

"My recollection of the story was that the dude just disappeared," Poor said. "This was Election Night... and the consultants are -- poof -- gone after the election. I don't think anyone ever got ahold of him. I don't know if he ever returned a phone call to Raj Goyle."

Poor does not remember ever involving the Kansas Democratic Party in the situation.

"Kelly and I were both Republicans; running to the state party chair wasn't something we would have done," Poor said.

Asked why no police report was ever filed about the incident, he replied, "You'd have to ask Kelly that."

He added, "Both Raj and I said to Kelly we'd go along with whatever you need."

Schodorf did not contact the police about the alleged assault.

"I was 19 at the time, maybe 20. I was really young and kind of scared and didn't know what to do," she said.

She said that three years later she ended up seeing a party executive committee member at a Kansas Democratic Party function. And that the man came up to her and "said out of nowhere, 'Thanks for keeping our little secret.'"

She would not reveal the identity of the executive party committee member, but said that he is now a lawmaker.

Chris Reeves, Kansas' Democratic national committeeman, said problems within the statehouse represent a problem of culture. Legislators and lobbyists had been given a pass on bad behavior "for far too long," he said.

"This is unacceptable. Systemic mistreatment of women within our state house -- by Republican and Democratic elected & Lobbyists should not be tolerated," Reeves said on Facebook.

Hodgson said Wednesday that she learned from an intern in 2016 that numerous Democratic lawmakers were relying on college interns for rides home after lobbyist-hosted cocktail parties and dinners.

She immediately raised concerns to her boss, state Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan. and the House Democratic leader at the time, Hodgson said. She contends Burroughs did nothing; Burroughs disputes that he failed to address the issue.

Carmichael said that it's not unusual for lawmakers to rely on designated drivers when they go out for dinner or drinks and the he recalled two instances where interns served as designated drivers. One of the interns was female, while the other was male.

"I think I was in the Suburban before I realized that the designated driver was going to be an intern, who was female," he said about the time a female intern drove.

He said that the young woman was not harassed, but that some of the lawmakers teased her for only ordering a burger when a lobbyist was picking up the tab. Carmichael said that he was fairly certain that the intern was at least 21-years-old.

"I didn't check anybody's ID... but I'm relatively certain she was a senior," he said.

"I do recall some days later that Abbie Hodgson had issued a directive that interns were not to serve as designated driver," he said.

Ward didn't address the specific allegations against House Democrats on Wednesday, but said Democratic leadership "does not tolerate acts of sexual harassment. It should not occur in our state capitol, any workplace, or society at large."

One of Ward's rivals for the Democratic nomination, chastised him Thursday for not addressing the allegations against party members more directly and for referring to established procedures for reporting alleged harassment.

"Ward defended the system that hasn't worked for women. It works against women," former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, a candidate for governor, said in a news release Thursday.

"I believe this issue deserves greater attention -- and action. State employees should receive sexual harassment training for new hires and existing staff on an annual basis, similar to what is now required in most major corporations," Brewer said.

"I would seek an independent audit of state systems for receiving, processing and resolving sexual harassment claims and implement a pro-active system to encourage reporting and reporting, not just by the victims, but require staff who may witness such harassment to report it," Brewer said.

(c)2017 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)