The Missouri General Assembly is months away from the opening gavel for the 2017 session, but already a huge controversy has erupted.
Only in politics and only in the Missouri legislature.
Missouri Southern State University in April 2015 pulled its four interns from the Capitol because of some lawmakers’ lewd and lecherous behavior. Only in June did the college decide to restart its 20-year-old legislative intern program in Jefferson City with the assurance that the problem had been evicted from the Statehouse with mandatory sexual harassment training in place to prevent a hostile work environment. An ombudsman also is on the job serving as a liaison for the interns, House administration and universities.
But over the weekend an incoming legislator, Cora Faith Walker of Ferguson, accused Steven Roberts Jr., another incoming legislator for the St. Louis area 77th District, of raping her. Walker, a Democrat, won her primary in August and will run unopposed in November.
Roberts, a Democrat, also is running unopposed in November. The charge against Roberts is no small matter.
Walker leveled the accusation in a letter to House Speaker Todd Richardson, House Minority Leader Jack Hummel and House Assistant Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty. The Kansas City Star reported that Walker wrote:
“You have spoken about systemic changes you hope to make toward improving the culture at the Capitol so that women can work safely. I commend and support the changes you have proposed. To that end, I ask that you do everything in your power to prevent Mr. Roberts from perpetrating sexual violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment against me or anyone else in the Capitol. I respectfully request that you not allow Mr. Roberts to be sworn in until this investigation is complete. In the alternative, I ask that his presence in the Capitol be monitored by security.”
Walker said she had filed a police report last week.
Roberts through his attorney has said that whatever occurred between the two politicians “was completely consensual.”
Walker said she thought she may have been drugged by Roberts at his apartment while meeting to discuss the 2017 session of the General Assembly.
The Star reports that Roberts was investigated last year but never charged in an accusation involving a female college student. He denied that allegation.
The Walker-Roberts controversy occurs after Richardson took over as House speaker because John Diehl resigned after The Star revealed his sexually charged involvement with a 19-year-old House intern. Afterward Sen. Paul LeVota if Independence resigned over allegations of sexual harassment by two former interns.
Dozens of women also have told The Star that sexual harassment regularly occurred at the Statehouse. Such behavior is shameful and wrong.
It interferes with interns learning about the legislative process and the work legislators are supposed to be doing as representatives of the districts that elected them.
The latest controversy must be thoroughly investigated and resolved with justice being served. Richardson was right to say in a statement on Saturday:
“The kind of conduct alleged cannot be tolerated in our state and will not be tolerated in the House of Representatives. While the House has no jurisdiction over nonmembers, we will monitor the criminal investigation closely and continue to have a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, misconduct and harassment.”
Let’s hope the matter is resolved soon so that the legislature can begin its work in Jefferson City without this controversy.