Harassment Claims Bring Down Washington State Representative

by | December 15, 2017 AT 9:29 AM

By Mike Baker

Washington state Rep. Matt Manweller has resigned from his leadership position in the state House and been stripped from his role as the top Republican member on a labor committee, a top GOP lawmaker said Thursday.

House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen said in a statement that he called for Manweller to step down from his position as assistant floor leader and that Manweller agreed.

Manweller was the subject of a Seattle Times story last week detailing two investigations conducted at Central Washington University, where he works as a professor, that assessed whether he had sexually harassed students year ago. A Times story on Monday also described the case of a woman who worked at the Legislature this year and had complained about Manweller after a meeting with him turned into a dinner that she said felt like a date.

Earlier this week, CWU placed Manweller on leave, saying it is now pursuing a new investigation of allegations of inappropriate conduct. Manweller's first wife, who was just out of high school when the couple married, has also said recently that Manweller kissed her when she was 17 and that she believes Manweller was grooming her when she was a high-school sophomore and he was a teacher at the school.

Manweller, R-Ellensburg, has denied wrongdoing at CWU, in Olympia and with his first wife. He said in a text message Thursday that the current environment makes his role in leadership a "distraction."

"Right now I plan to focus solely on my district and step away from my leadership roles," Manweller said. House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, has called on Manweller to resign from the Legislature, but Manweller has said that will not happen.

The Legislature has rarely seen personnel changes amid accusations of misconduct. Former Democratic Rep. Jim Jacks resigned in 2011 after accusations of inappropriate behavior toward a female staffer, but legislative leaders did not detail the circumstances of his departure until last month.

But amid a national discussion about sexual harassment, the issue has surged to the forefront in Olympia. More than 200 women have signed a letter demanding changes to the culture of politics in Olympia, saying it has been silently permissive of harassment and inappropriate behavior.

Kristiansen didn't say in his statement why he wanted Manweller to step down. He said "leadership will continue to evaluate facts and monitor any new information."

The first investigation at CWU occurred in 2012 as Manweller was running for office. The inquiry looked primarily at allegations from a student several years prior. Manweller, who began working at CWU in 2003, was not disciplined after that first investigation, but it concluded there was evidence to suggest he had violated the school's sexual harassment policies.

The second investigation began soon after the first and again closely scrutinized his actions in years prior. That investigation also concluded that there was evidence to suggest policy violations, and the university issued a letter of reprimand and ordered Manweller to undergo training to prevent sexual harassment.

(c)2017 The Seattle Times