Politics & Government

House may strip Tacoma lawmaker of his committee chairmanship based on investigation findings

State Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma.
State Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma. Courtesy

A House panel will decide next week whether to suspend Tacoma Rep. David Sawyer from his committee chairmanship after preliminary findings from an investigation into his conduct, House Democratic leaders said Friday evening.

The independent investigation into Sawyer's behavior is ongoing, but House leaders said in a news release the inquiry had "confirmed evidence supporting some allegations" against the Democrat, prompting them to take action.

In a February story by The News Tribune, The Olympian and public radio's Northwest News Network, eight women accused Sawyer of engaging in behavior before and after he joined the Legislature that ranged from inappropriate to harassing.

The allegations included persistent or suggestive electronic messaging, unwanted attention and comments with sexual overtones.

Sawyer has denied many of the allegations and maintains he has acted professionally and legally.

The House ordered its investigation into Sawyer's behavior shortly before the story by the three news outlets was published, based on an unspecified allegation related to personal-boundary concerns. Sawyer was also restricted from working with his staff in the House.

The inquiry was later expanded after the additional allegations were made public. A spokesman for House leaders Friday would not say what the preliminary findings of the investigation are.

The Committee on Committees run by House Democrats is set to meet Wednesday morning to vote on whether to suspend Sawyer's chairmanship of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee. Democratic leaders in the House recommended he lose his position, at least temporarily, "pending the conclusion of the investigation," according to a news release.

In a text message to The News Tribune on Friday, Sawyer said "The Legislature needs to set an example and not politicize the process and let the investigator finish her job."

House leaders said Friday the investigation will likely be done by the end of May.

Since the allegations became public, there has been a split among Democrats over whether Sawyer should continue to seek re-election in 2018.

But he has faced growing opposition.

A swath of Democratic politicians representing Pierce County have called on him to drop out of the race, including Congressmen Denny Heck of Olympia and Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, a handful of state lawmakers and city and county councilmembers.

The Democratic organization in Sawyer's 29th Legislative District also narrowly approved a resolution in April asking him to resign or not seek re-election.

Some prominent politicians, including Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, have stood by Sawyer's side.

Sawyer is also facing election challenges within his own party, notably from Melanie Morgan, a member of the Franklin Pierce School Board.

Morgan has been endorsed by Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson, state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, and others.

Sawyer has said he will not drop out of the race. He has raised $88,688 in campaign cash compared to Morgan's $4,789, according to the state's Public Disclosure Commission.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826 @walkerorenstein