CVIndependent

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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The resignation of California Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman comes at a particularly emotional moment in California politics—on the heels of historic wins for Democrats and after a year of bipartisan reckoning over the apparent culture of sexual bullying within the political class.

Bauman became the latest casualty of the #MeToo movement when he resigned last week, hours after Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom called on him to step down over allegations he harassed staff members and party activists with numerous lewd comments and incidents of inappropriate physical contact. Bauman said he has a drinking problem and would seek treatment.

“I have made the realization that in order for those to whom I may have caused pain and who need to heal, for my own health, and in the best interest of the party that I love and to which I have dedicated myself for more than 25 years, it is in everyone’s best interest for me to resign my position as chair of the California Democratic Party,” Bauman said.

The fact that Bauman’s alleged behavior persisted even as the public gaze focused so heavily in the last year on rooting out sexual harassment may be a testament to the counterproductive role alcohol too often plays in Capitol culture. Or it may point to the declining significance of political parties—how important can a party leader be, after all, if he can decree “zero tolerance,” as Bauman did, for sexual harassment, and then openly proceed to harass his staff?

But most of all, Bauman’s resignation is a sign that the #MeToo story is far from over.

“There are a lot of untold stories, and frankly, a lot of bad actors who haven’t been held accountable yet,” said Samantha Corbin, a lobbyist who helped coordinate a public letter that last year kicked off the anti-harassment movement in the state Capitol.

During the past year of tumult and introspection, three legislators resigned, facing harassment allegations, and several others were publicly reprimanded for behavior ranging from using vulgar language to giving unwanted “noogies.” On the same day Bauman resigned, the Assembly released records saying Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia violated sexual harassment policy by acting “overly familiar” with a staffer when, in a drunken state, she grabbed him at a legislative softball game. Throughout this year, the Legislature passed dozens of laws to combat harassment in workplaces statewide, and formed a special committee that crafted a plan to improve the culture inside the Capitol.

Bauman, who is gay, spoke out last year in favor of legislation to give Capitol staffers whistleblower protection if they report misconduct. The Democratic convention he organized in February included new precautions to keep participants safe, such as extra security and a hotline for reporting harassment and assault.

Now Bauman himself will be the focus of an inquiry by a new Commission of Inquiry and Recognition being formed by a Democratic party activist in Los Angeles who says he’s been a victim of Bauman’s inappropriate advances. The commission includes former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin.

“There is going to be a lot of focus on who enabled this. There are still people in party leadership who enabled this to persist as long as it has,” said Hans Johnson, president of the East Area Progressive Democrats club. “They are part of the breakdown in governance in the party that contributed to the worsening and widening of the hurt (Bauman) has been allowed to inflict.”

Johnson said Bauman doesn’t deserve credit for California Democrats’ electoral victories this month—which included flipping seven seats in the House, capturing every statewide office and gaining supermajorities (and then some) in both chambers of the Legislature.

Political scientists and campaign strategists agreed that party leadership seemed to be only one factor among many in the blue wave this election. Democrats, they noted, also were buoyed by Californians’ deep dislike of Republican President Donald Trump, as well as a strong push from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and numerous labor and activist groups that raised huge sums of money and organized campaign volunteers.

“The state party did not have a major role in what happened in regards to Congress,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a retired political science professor at the University of Southern California.

“What the state party is, by and large, is a way for donors to launder money,” she said, because the law limits how much they can give to individual candidates—but not how much they can give to the state party.

The party hired an employment lawyer to investigate the accusations against Bauman. That process will continue despite his resignation, said acting Chair Alexandra Gallardo Rooker. An executive summary of the findings will be made public.  

Rooker will continue to serve as the party chair until delegates elect a new leader, likely at their convention in May. What’s not clear, however, is how many more political figures will fall before the #MeToo story is over in California.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

Patricia Brooks said it was sexual harassment when she was taking a call as a 911 dispatcher in San Mateo and a colleague reached his hand inside her bra and fondled her breast.

The courts disagreed in 2000, saying it wasn’t sexual harassment because the single incident didn’t amount to a “severe or pervasive” problem—the legal standard necessary in a civil suit. That decision led to a long-standing legal interpretation that critics say has allowed harassers “one free grope.” But not anymore.

A bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed over the weekend rejects that interpretation, clarifying that a single incident of harassment can be enough to meet the legal standard. In other words, starting on Jan. 1, California law essentially says: “Actually, no free gropes.”

It’s one of the more tangible changes Californians can expect from a suite of bills Brown signed that were inspired by the #MeToo movement, which erupted last year after The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed abuse by film producer Harvey Weinstein in coverage that eventually grew into global demands for change. In California, lawmakers introduced more than two dozen bills to combat workplace misconduct and hold offenders accountable.

Brown finished acting on them on Sept. 30, the constitutional deadline for him to sign or veto bills for the year, and the final opportunity for him to make laws as he nears the end of his historic four terms as governor. Brown’s decisions on the #MeToo bills reveal his penchant for, as he once famously described it, paddling a little on the left and a little on the right.

He sided with victims’ advocates in some cases, signing bills that put California at the forefront of clamping down on harassment. In other cases, he sided with employers, vetoing bills they said were too onerous.

“While there was definitely some great progress on the bills he did sign, we have a long way to go on preventing sexual harassment, especially on the particular challenges that low-wage workers face,” said Jessica Stender, a lawyer with Equal Rights Advocates, a sponsor of some of the bills, including the one providing guidance on the legal standard for harassment suits.

On the flip side, business interests concerned about litigation abuse said the lower standard will amount to a huge expansion of liability.

“It is going to significantly increase litigation,” predicted Caitlin Colman, a lobbyist for the Civil Justice Association of California. “It does not apply to just sexual harassment; it applies to all harassment claims.”

Samantha Corbin, a lobbyist who wrote an open letter last year decrying a culture of harassment in California’s political scene that was signed by hundreds of women, said she was disappointed but not surprised by Brown’s vetoes. Her advocacy group, called We Said Enough, lobbied for 13 anti-harassment bills this year. The governor signed eight and vetoed five.

“This governor has always strived for balance, particularly when you’re looking at contentious issues in the national spotlight,” Corbin said. “It’s very rare for him to go all in on one side.”

Brown signed bills that will:

  • Prohibit employers from requiring employees sign non-disparagement agreements.
  • Prohibit secrecy clauses in settlements for sexual misconduct, unless the complainant wants one.
  • Require employers with five or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to both supervisors and staff.
  • Require California-based companies to add more women to their boards.

He vetoed bills that sought to:

  • Require the state government to track harassment complaints and settlements in an annual public report.
  • Get rid of arbitration clauses in employment agreements, making it easier for workers to sue rather than resolve conflicts in private arbitration.
  • Require large businesses to keep harassment records for at least five years.
  • Extend the amount of time harassment victims have to file complaints, from one year to three years.

“Employees who have experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace should have every opportunity to have their complaints investigated,” Brown wrote in his veto of Assembly Bill 1870 to extend the amount of time victims have to complain. “I believe, however, that the current filing deadline—which has been in place since 1963—not only encourages prompt resolution while memories and evidence are fresh, but also ensures that unwelcome behavior is promptly reported and halted.”

Some advocates complained the bills Brown signed will largely help women working in professional settings, while those he vetoed were aimed at helping low-wage workers such as janitors, maids, waitresses and sales clerks.

“It seems the #MeToo protections won’t extend to women who don’t have a certain standing, access to attorneys or a level of existing power,” Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher wrote on Facebook the night Brown vetoed several of her bills, including the one to ban mandatory arbitration, a practice to which more than half the nation’s nonunion private-sector workers are subject.

“It’s pretty hard to celebrate the gains for women who have the same educational and access advantages as I do, while denying any gains for women like my mom and grandmother who never had those opportunities. You shouldn’t need a Twitter account or an attorney to not be abused in your workplace. And some day, you won’t need either ... we don’t give up that easy.”

Brown’s veto said her anti-arbitration bill violates federal law. The California Chamber of Commerce had deemed it a “job killer,” saying it could burden businesses with an avalanche of lawsuits. Arbitration agreements “expedite the resolution of claims in a less costly environment than sending all claims through an overburdened court system,” the Chamber said in a statement.

The fight is certain to continue next year, after Californians choose a new governor. Gonzalez Fletcher may have a critical ally in her corner: One person who lobbied for her anti-arbitration bill this year was feminist filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom. She, of course, is married to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front-runner in the race for governor.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics.

Published in Politics