By Jeffrey Peters, PhD
The Maryland Senate has a MeToo problem. For years, State Senators have treated staff, interns, reporters, and lobbyists as their play toys, saying and acting in inappropriate ways without any fear of reprisal. Hypocritically, Democrat State Senators are willing to name lobbyists as possible harassers, but not one has bothered to name, or demand the resignation, of the greatest harasser in the capital: the Senate President.
The Senate President’s inappropriate comments and behavior has been well-known for over a decade. Bringing up the topic to even new legislators is met with knowing nods and tight smiles, mostly due to everyone knowing that the king has no clothes but all thinking that nothing can be done about it. But the culture of harassment is damaging to all in the State House.
For all their talk about women’s rights, the Maryland Democrats have done nothing to protect female staffers, interns, and lobbyists in Annapolis. I worked as a staffer in the Maryland House of Delegates for 4 session under two female Delegates, and there was plenty of harassment towards myself and other male staff during that time. Legislators treated young staff, regardless of their gender, as playtoys. The most innocent limit themselves to trying to set staff up with other staff, playing matchmaking games. Others would not limit themselves. I don’t have to try too hard to imagine how worse it would have been if I were a woman.
The culture of sex and harassment is a well-worn topic among staff and legislators, but it is mostly treated with bemusement. From my first day working in Delegate Nancy Stocksdale’s office, I began to hear the stories: various officials who would try to pressure others into having sex with them and their levels of success. Some staffers told me first-hand accounts of catching various willing individuals acting inappropriately in stairwells or backrooms, and others walking in just at the right moment to ensure a preyed upon individual could escape. It seemed that more politicians cared about “getting laid” than doing their job.
It did not take long until I started seeing the behavior, and I found it deeply unsettling. I worked with my former office mate to turn our office into a safe space. We offered actual help and advice to interns and young staff regardless of gender and party without asking for anything in return. Quickly, we became a hub on the third floor, a safe haven. This led to more direct exposure of the harassment.
I will not name them to protect their privacy, two female staff members from very different backgrounds and positions came to me for help. One, a Democrat, would ask that I accompany her in the hall way to help protect her from the harassment of various legislators, especially one still represents the DC/Southern Maryland region. On multiple occasions, I witnessed inappropriate comments, including unwanted “flirtation” that clearly made her uncomfortable. He was not the only one, but he was the most consistent offender. I notified various Democrat members of the House of Delegates who were on the floor and I worked with before. Most shrugged the behavior off or said they would do something and never did. The behavior never stopped.
The other staffer was constantly pursued by a then State Senator. The Senator’s advances were more physical and forceful. He tried to convince her that she was his property and to do whatever sexual act he wanted. She was not the only one he was pursuing, and his behavior was not even limited to young, powerless staffers like her. During Sine Die after she left, the staff was busy trying to ensure that he was unable to be in the same room with an older, married staffer that he was desperate to have. It was obscene and disturbing to many, yet complaints were met with silence by the leadership.
While he still pursued staff, the State Senator would brag about the sexual activity of the State Senate. He, from the Eastern Shore, would tell those he pursued about how common sex with staff was. He bragged that he was constantly talking with a then Senator from Western Maryland, a then Senator from Montgomery County, and the Senate President about their various conquests. They would sit in the Senate Cloak Room and discuss which staff was attractive and which were easy. They would also swap pills and discuss best ways to get laid. It was a frat house of the worse kind.
It may seem like the former Senator could have lied, but the affairs and inappropriate actions by the other two Senators became well-known during their campaigns in 2014. All three lost their positions due to their sexual impropriety. The only one that is still there, of his group of friends, is the Senate President.
Even if the Senate President did not harass anyone on his own (which anecdotal conversations suggest otherwise), he stood by and did nothing as his Senators were using their positions of power to force staff into sexual relationships with them. The current State Senate knows of this issues, and the only ones wanting to do anything refuse to take direct action. Instead, they want more committees and more hearings, yet not one bothered to contact any of the well-known staff who were harassed because they know it would force them to take direct action against certain people in power.
The Maryland State Senate has a MeToo problem, and that wont change until the culture of harassment is purged from Annapolis. That requires the Senate President and most of the Democratic leadership to step down due to their standing by as harassment happens or actively participating in that harassment.