The Anti-Harassment, Equality, and Access (AHEA) panel set up by the Democratic Party earlier this year released its final recommendations last week.
The AHEA panel wants the state’s political parties to make their funding of candidates contingent on campaigns adopting specific policies and training. The panel was created in the wake of numerous sexual-harassment allegations at the Statehouse and in campaigns.
Among other things, the panel published a model anti-harassment policy for campaigns as well as a list of some things that can be considered harassment, bullying, and discrimination. It recommends that bystanders speak up and says campaigns should adopt strict rules against retaliation and set up procedures for reporting violations.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Senator Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) and Representative Carol Ammons (D-Champaign) held six listening sessions throughout the state and they seem to have put a lot of thought into the final product, which was sent to all party leaders at the state and county level as well as all statewide and state-level campaigns.
The panel’s final report also includes a goal of making sure at least half the members of the General Assembly (and other state and local governments) are women. It wants the state parties to each hire a “director of diversity” to recruit candidates and staff and invest in training women to run for office. The panel also recommends that the parties require diversity in the pool of applicants for every political vacancy and establish an advisory board to oversee the changes.
The panel wants to “attack the culture of silence that keeps sexual harassment and other misconduct shrouded in secrecy” by instituting a ban on the use of non-disclosure agreements or mandatory arbitration clauses in campaigns relating to sexual harassment.
Campaign staffers often spend long hours with each other, both at work and at play. So the panel is recommending a “one ask” rule for dating, pointing to Facebook’s implementation of the policy. In other words, if a person declines a date invite for any reason, he or she cannot be asked again. The report does acknowledge that “over-regulation” of the dating issue could “discourage the friendship and camaraderie that is a hallmark of a well-run campaign and may be impossible to enforce.”
The panel also wants campaigns to “monitor” alcohol use and prohibit consumption “to the extent it interferes with a campaign worker’s ability to perform his or her job or exercise proper judgment.” The panel also warns that alcohol policies shouldn’t ever be used to “justify harassing and inappropriate behavior or used to discredit a victim.”
But how realistic are some of these policies in high-pressure, non-stop campaign environments that are exclusively focused on winning the race at hand?
The panel’s report included “paraphrased comments” from participants of the listening sessions like this: “Expecting campaigns or parties to handle harassment internally during a campaign may be unrealistic because everyone, including the victims of harassment, is trying to win the election. This desire to win may be a deterrent to reporting because victims may worry it would hurt the campaign.”
I think that’s why House Republican Leader Jim Durkin’s recent decision to abandon Representative Jerry Long’s (R-Streator) re-election campaign was so important and so under-appreciated by the media and other political observers.
Durkin has said that his best hope in a year like this is to focus lots of resources on picking up and/or holding on to Downstate seats. Long’s Downstate seat was once in Democratic hands, but pro-Trump, anti-Madigan sentiment helped propel him into the General Assembly two years ago (along with a 2016 opponent who reportedly didn’t care to walk precincts). The Democrats were coming after him hard this year.
Yet when a campaign worker reported allegations of harassment, Durkin ordered an outside investigation and then publicly walked away from the candidate. There was no attempt to sweep it under the rug until after the election, which is pretty much what you’d expect in other times (and, frankly, even now).
What Durkin clearly demonstrated by abandoning Long’s campaign is that some things have to be more important than winning. That’s an all too rare concept in politics.
It was also prudent in the long-term. Covering up the Long situation could’ve seriously endangered his leadership position if the truth emerged.
However you look at it, this was absolutely the right move by Durkin and it took guts, particularly since some House members on his far-right flank are still not condemning Long and the state’s leading newspaper editorial boards have remained silent.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.