State Senate probe is over-correction of #MeToo

Even though he lost his re-election bid, state senate leaders are moving forward with investigation of Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, following a rape allegation.
Even though he lost his re-election bid, state senate leaders are moving forward with investigation of Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, following a rape allegation. Tacoma

In 2014, Joe Fain of Auburn won his state Senate seat without breaking a sweat. Grabbing more than 64 percent of the vote, the second-term Republican coasted to Olympia with nary a worry.

Fast-forward four years and see that Fain, now the minority floor leader, lost in November’s election, albeit narrowly, by political newcomer Mona Das, a Democrat from Covington.

A midterm course correction? A referendum on President Trump’s policies? Maybe. But it’s more likely that Fain, known for his moderate views, was sunk by a tweet, not a wave.

“@senatorfain, you raped me the night I graduated from Georgetown in 2007.”

The accusation came from a former foreign-service officer named Candace Faber, who, after watching Christine Blasey Ford testify against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, says she was inspired to tell her own story of sexual assault.

Faber, who once worked in the City of Seattle’s Information Technology Department, said in a statement, “Like Dr. Ford, I can no longer remain silent knowing that the man who raped me is in a position to influence the laws that govern my state and impact every woman who lives here.”

Wisely, the state Senate Facilities and Operations Committee agreed with Faber and unanimously approved an outside investigation.

The probe was set to take place only if Fain kept his seat. But the day after Fain conceded, state leaders, with the backing of lawmakers from both parties and Gov. Jay Inslee, said they were moving forward with it.

The off-again ,on-again state investigation shows that the Legislature still has work to do in determining best practices for conducting inquiries of alleged sexual misconduct.

It makes sense to investigate lawmakers who are entrenched in office and/or running for reelection. But Fain bowed out and will be gone from office in a month. Why spend Washington taxpayer dollars on an alleged incident that happened in the other Washington more than a decade ago?

Come January, Fain will be a private citizen. The state could be setting a dangerous precedent investigating sexual abuse and misconduct allegations of former employees.

The #MeToo movement of 2017 kicked up a lot of controversy, but it yielded two invaluable truths: allegations of sexual harassment must be taken seriously and accusers should be believed.

The social-media phenomenon can be credited for pushing some significant progress in our state. Last year, the Washington Senate led by example by creating a new human resources position to investigate all workplace misconduct.

The neutral office is a vast improvement over the informal grievance process that once encouraged victims to solve problems on their own by appealing to supervisors. The state House and Senate also increased anti-harassment training for both staff and lawmakers.

Best of all, party leaders began to police themselves.

Rep. David Sawyer, the Democrat from Tacoma, was openly criticized by fellow Dems including party leaders when he was accused of inappropriate remarks and unwelcome advances by at least eight women.

Sawyer’s loss in the primary election, after a state-ordered investigation found he broke House ethics and harassment policy, is a cautionary tale: Public officials should think twice before referring to co-workers as “arm candy.”

Meantime, Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, was asked by party leaders to step down over allegations he had a sexual relationship with a former high school student in 1997 and after he was fired from his job at Central Washington University for alleged inappropriate conduct.

Manweller was appropriately investigated by the university.

The anti-harassment movement was a long time coming, but this type of investigation of Fain, or anyone no longer employed by state government, is an example of over-correction.

The rape allegation needs sorting out – either so Faber’s account can be corroborated, or Fain’s name cleared – but not by a third-party entity whose power lies outside the criminal jurisdiction.

What will the Senate committee do with the information once the costly investigation is over? It can’t censure and can’t prosecute. Fain’s alleged offense does not relate to state service or employment, ala Sawyer and Manweller.

The fact that Fain is a Republican and the Democrats are the ones pushing this probe also falls under the heading of“bad optics.”

The state must continue the gains made by #MeToo, but the referendum on workplace misconduct is not served by an investigation that won’t yield the justice victims deserve.

Perhaps the only judgment that’s possible in the case of Faber vs. Fain was rendered in the court of public approval. And it was there, on Nov. 6, that Sen. Joe Fain lost.