All Kansas House Democrats will receive sexual harassment prevention training in December after multiple women stepped forward with allegations of 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, 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.
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Ward’s announcement comes after Abbie Hodgson, a former Democratic legislative staffer, alleged that in 2015 she was propositioned by a lawmaker and that lawmakers were relying on female interns as designated drivers after lobbyist-hosted cocktail hours.
In the wake of Hodgson’s revelations, more women have stepped forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, including the daughter of a former Kansas lawmaker.
Kelly Schodorf, a lawyer in Wichita and the daughter of former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, said 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 on to me. Grabbing my wrists and tried to kiss me… He had me pinned against the wall,” Schodorf said.
Schodorf got loose and a friend drove her home, she said. “I would consider it sexual assault,” she said.
She 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 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.
Schodorf’s mother lost the 2010 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 she told Goyle about the assault and that Goyle immediately took her to see a Kansas Democratic Party executive committee member.
“And nothing ever happened,” she said.
Schodorf said she thought Goyle handled the situation appropriately, but she was frustrated with the lack of action by the Democratic Party. She added in a second phone call that this consultant continued to seek work in Kansas Democratic campaigns and she had to alert them herself against hiring him.
Goyle said in an email Thursday evening he has “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.” Goyle moved to New York shortly after the campaign ended.
State Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said that he was serving as 4th district party chairman at the time and that Goyle told him about the incident.
“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, a lawyer, said he recalls speaking to Goyle about the incident, but does not remember speaking directly to Schodorf or giving any legal advice about it.
“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 a consultant for the Goyle campaign, not the party.
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.
“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.
Asked why no police report was filed, he replied, “You’d have to ask Kelly (Schodorf) that.”
He added, “Both Raj and I said to Kelly we’d go along with whatever you need.”
Schodorf said that three years later she saw a party executive committee member at a Kansas Democratic Party function. 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 the man is now a lawmaker.
Carmichael said in a phone call Friday that after reading Schodorf’s comments, he believes that he is the party executive she is referencing.
“I do not recall having phrased my comment to her that evening as she describes. It’s not typical of me to speak that way. But she would have a better memory than I,” Carmichael said. “I very likely expressed my appreciation for the mature and professional manner she handled the situation… I think she handled it very responsibly.
“It’s clear to me that I fell short of her expectations in that circumstance. And I am very sorry,” he said. “I thought the circumstance was resolved to her satisfaction. All of us are learning from these circumstances, myself included.”
Chris Reeves, Kansas’ Democratic national committeeman, said sexual harassment in the statehouse represents a problem of culture. Legislators and lobbyists had been given a pass on bad behavior “for far too long,” he said.
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.
Hodgson said 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. She contends Burroughs did nothing; Burroughs disputes that.
Carmichael said that it’s not unusual for lawmakers to rely on designated drivers when they go out for dinner or drinks and he recalled two instances where interns served as designated drivers. One of the interns was female, the other 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 he was fairly certain 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.
Contributing: Hunter Woodall of The Star