Politics & Government

GOP representative booted from legislative positions after sexual harassment allegations

In this March 3, 2015 photo, Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, speaks on the House floor in Olympia against a bill to raise Washington state's minimum wage. Manweller, who is facing scrutiny over past allegations of sexual harassment, has been removed from his ranking member position on a House committee, and has resigned his position as assistant floor leader, House leaders said Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017.
In this March 3, 2015 photo, Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, speaks on the House floor in Olympia against a bill to raise Washington state's minimum wage. Manweller, who is facing scrutiny over past allegations of sexual harassment, has been removed from his ranking member position on a House committee, and has resigned his position as assistant floor leader, House leaders said Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. AP

Republican state Rep. Matt Manweller has been demoted from two positions at the Legislature following the start of an investigation into his conduct as a professor at Central Washington University and past allegations he sexually harassed students.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said in an emailed statement Thursday that Manweller was “removed” as the top Republican on the House’s Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. Manweller also resigned as the party’s assistant floor leader upon Kristiansen’s request.

Kristiansen did not specify why exactly Manweller was demoted but noted “leadership will continue to evaluate facts and monitor any new information.”

Manweller said in a text message to The News Tribune and The Olympian his leadership positions within the House GOP are a “distraction” given “the current environment.”

He said Republicans should focus on legislative priorities such as addressing the rural water rights battle sparked after the 2016 state Supreme Court decision known as Hirst.

“Right now I plan to focus solely on my district and step away from my leadership roles,” he said.

The demotions come as Manweller is on administrative leave from CWU. The school is conducting an investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct. School officials have not disclosed the nature of the allegations.

“We’re just in the process of seeking an investigator,” CWU Chief of Staff Linda Schactler said Thursday. “That’s what we’re focused on.”

That investigation was sparked when the school received new complaints following renewed scrutiny of back-to-back investigations into whether Manweller sexually harassed students.

The most recent of the two came in 2013 and included allegations Manweller propositioned two students for a threesome at a bar in Ellensburg in the summer of 2006. The investigation was first made public by The Seattle Times last week.

Manweller said he did not proposition the women but “probably said something that was taken poorly or out of context and caused offense,” according to a written rebuttal he sent to the school.

The university never determined the allegations in either investigation to be substantiated. School officials have said no formal complaints were ever filed. Most of the allegations originated around 2006.

Manweller was not disciplined, was later promoted to full professor and also won $15,000 in attorneys fees and other concessions from CWU in a settlement related to the harassment investigations.

Still, school officials reprimanded Manweller after the 2013 investigation, saying he needed to better maintain boundaries with students. Investigators concluded in both reports that there was evidence Manweller violated CWU’s sexual harassment policy.

Other women have also come forward in the last week to speak about experiences with Manweller.

OraLynn Reeve, the legislator’s ex-wife, told The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network last week that she believes Manweller leveraged his status as her former high school teacher to marry her when she was 18 and he was 30.

They first met when she was 16 and he taught her high school geometry class. Two years after leaving the school, they began dating and married.

Manweller insists there was no abuse of power in their relationship. Reeve does not contend anything illegal happened.

The Seattle Times and Northwest News Network have also reported stories of women who have been made uncomfortable by Manweller’s actions. One woman told The Seattle Times she complained to House GOP leadership earlier this year after going to a meeting with Manweller about her career that turned into what felt like a date.

They went to a restaurant, where said said Manweller was flirtatious. Manweller told the paper he didn’t do anything inappropriate and that he has had similar dinners with men.

Kristiansen said in a statement on Monday the issue was brought to their attention and they “promptly addressed that matter.” He declined to discuss specifics.

“We take harassment issues seriously, and everyone shares the goal of a safe workplace environment where people feel empowered to come forward if there is a problem,” he said.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein

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