Right Message, Wrong Messenger
The first response from an elected member of the Maryland General Assembly to the issue of sexual harassment in Annapolis came last week, as Delegate Ariana Kelly wrote a lengthy op-ed in the Washington Post detailing her experiences as a legislator.
Before I was elected to the state legislature, I worked as an advocate in Annapolis. I knew there was a certain “old boys club” culture that women worked around to get their jobs done. There were offices you didn’t enter without a buddy and committees that had a reputation for being hostile to women. The women legislators I admired were all tough as nails. To do their jobs well, they had to be.
After my election in 2010, I returned to Annapolis as a member of the House of Delegates. I was warned by colleagues that relationships are everything in politics, and, above all else, I must be likable. Eager to best represent my community, I tried to take their advice.
The first time a married senior colleague grabbed my rear end, I was shocked. It was my first legislative session, and I was still getting to know people. Two of my male colleagues witnessed this sustained and shameless public groping. I was utterly humiliated. The next morning I went into a female legislator’s office, closed the door and cried.
We talked about reporting the incident but concluded it would publicly embarrass a senior colleague, his allies might rush to his defense and I could be accused of making a big deal out of nothing. If politics is all about relationships, that would not help my career.
Instead, I had a direct conversation with the member and told him, “I look forward to a long productive working relationship with you. Please don’t ever grab my ass again.” Until his retirement, our relationship was always awkward, and I suspect I lost opportunities to work on certain issues as a result. That’s the thing about sexual harassment: Women are never sure exactly how much of their professional potential it limits.
This story is just the tip of the iceberg of my early experiences in Annapolis. As I grew more senior, these experiences became less frequent.
Kelly should be commended for coming forward with her story. The most interesting part of her piece is when Kelly talks about her discussion with Speaker Busch about sexual harassment in the General Assembly;
After the “Access Hollywood” tape broke, members of the Women’s Caucus met with Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). I told him about the stories we had heard from interns, lobbyists and legislative aides — and about my own experiences. We discussed why it is hard for people to report these incidents and that it is a lot of pressure for victims to depend on a complaint-driven process. The speaker agreed to work with the Women’s Caucus to update our sexual-harassment reporting and accountability policy and to significantly improve our sexual-harassment-prevention efforts. He started right away, by working with the minority leader to ensure that the Democratic and Republican caucuses knew we have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.
That, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be the case, however. Kelly says that her discussion with the Speaker came after the “Access Hollywood” tape broke during the 2016 Presidential election. However, no new policy on sexual harassment was released by the General Assembly until late December 2017, well over a year after the release of the tape. Even then, as we discussed on Red Maryland Radio on December 14th, the policy does not even guarantee that the name of the assailant will even be released publicly, much less reprimanded or removed from the General Assembly.
This isn’t a zero-tolerance policy; Kelly is trying to make it seem like Speaker Busch is doing something on this issue when in fact he and Senate President Mike Miller are only paying the issue lip service.
Complicating matters even more is the fact that Kelly has faced no consequences for her own sexual indiscretions which took place in the summer of 2015;
A 39-year-old state lawmaker from Bethesda was arrested in late June and charged with indecent exposure and trespassing after a dispute at the home of her ex-husband, according to court records.
A charging document said Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Mongtomery) was dropping off her children at her ex-husband’s house, in the 5300 block of Alta Vista Road in Bethesda, when she became upset that his fiancee was inside the residence. Kelly and Barak Sanford were divorced in November, according to court records.
Sanford told police that Kelly started ringing the doorbell and banging on the door and that he asked her to leave.
According to the charging document, Sanford played a cellphone video for police that showed Kelly ringing the doorbell “numerous times,” exposing her breasts in the direction of Sanford’s cellphone camera and then “with one breast in each hand [shaking] them up and down.”
An officer who responded to the scene told Kelly that she could be arrested for indecent exposure and asked her to leave. According to the document, Kelly said: “Arrest me then,” and she extended her wrists toward the officer.
Kelly was ultimately not prosecuted for the incident. However, it is quite the juxtaposition for Kelly to be writing about the lack of consequences for the sexual harassment she experienced when she herself faced no consequences for the sexual harassment and indecent acts she herself committed.
(Unrelated to her involvement in that sordid affair, Kelly has also faced no consequences from her legislative colleagues for ten traffic violations that include driving on a suspended license and failing to present a valid driver’s license, among others)
One thing that Kelly and I find common ground on, however, is that sexual harassment has no place in the General Assembly. These issues must be cleaned up to create a safe working envrionment for legislators, staffers, and activists alike. Where we differ is on the actual execution. While she may have written this response to the discussion of sexual harassment at the behest of legislative leadership, what we are seeing from Miller and Busch is a far cry from the proactive steps needed to end the deviant sexual culture of Annapolis once and for all.
I’m sad to hear that Delegate Kelly had to put up with what she’s put up with. But while she may be a victim, she is not the best messenger for the Democrats to send out on