Four Democratic candidates for Congress promised to take action to address the issue of sexual harassment before a crowd of nearly 250 people at a forum in Lenexa Tuesday.
The event, which was hosted by the Johnson County Young Democrats, took place four days after Democratic front runner Andrea Ramsey ended her campaign in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District. She stepped out of the race after The Star asked her about a lawsuit against her former employer LabOne, which alleged that she had committed sexual harassment against a male subordinate. Multiple sources have told The Star the suit was settled.
Ramsey has denied the allegations.
Before her exit, she had been seen as a top contender to take on U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, in 2018.
Yoder, who cast a vote for a controversial tax bill Tuesday, has held the seat in the Kansas City suburbs since 2011.
On Monday, Ramsey endorsed Brent Welder, a labor attorney who moved to Kansas in April.
Welder told the crowd at the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church that Ramsey was an honorable person and touted her endorsement early in the forum. Later in the forum when the candidates were asked about the issue of sexual harassment, Welder did not mention her name or the allegations against her.
Welder lauded the “Me Too” movement for spreading awareness of sexual harassment and promised to support legislation that would require sexual harassment settlements by members of Congress to be disclosed and for the settlement to be repaid by the alleged offenders.
“It’s about empowering women. It’s about women’s rights… And what it’s really also about is making sure women when they bring accusations of sexual harassment are taken seriously,” Welder said.
Asked about Ramsey’s accuser after the forum, Welder responded, “I think her accuser has been taken seriously.” A member of his campaign staff then led him away.
Chris Haulmark, a deaf-rights activist from Olathe, said he has been oppressed and marginalized as a deaf person and that helps inform the way he handles issues such as sexual harassment.
“I want to set up a safe environment. For everyone. For all women,” he said.
Tom Niermann, a Prairie Village teacher, said he would also support the “Me Too” legislation and that members of Congress should be held to the highest possible standard.
Neither mentioned Ramsey. Only Jay Sidie, the party’s 2016 nominee, made a passing reference to the allegations.
In addition, Sidie called for reforms to make victims in both the political world and corporate world more comfortable reporting harassment.
“The people who are victims don’t feel safe to come forward. And that’s our first hurdle,” he said.
He also called for more sexual harassment training in schools, saying that “you can’t wait until somebody gets to Congress to teach them to be a decent person.”
Sidie said in order for Democrats to prevail in the 3rd district, which covers the Kansas City suburbs, they’ll need to persuade Republican voters. He recounted how in 2016 he began making phone calls to Yoder’s donors and asked them to support him.
“And my campaign thought I was nuts,” he said.
Welder, who worked on U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016, repeatedly channeled the rhetoric of the Vermont senator as he railed against economic inequality.
“We are going to fight back against the giant corporations, against the billionaires,” he said.
Haulmark, who used sign language and an interpreter, noted how he would make history as the first deaf person in Congress if elected and said the entire nation would be watching the 3rd district. At one point when his interpreter’s microphone malfunctioned, he joked that if the crowd would learn sign language, they would no longer have to worry about technical difficulties.
Niermann touted his background as a teacher, recounting how he worked three jobs early in his career and worked with students of all economic backgrounds.
“I am a member of the middle class. I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck,” he said.