SF Gate - 10.18.2017
Women Of Sacramento Move From ‘Me Too’ To ‘Enough’ [article]
Oct 18, 2017
SACRAMENTO — Female lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative staffers stepped forward Tuesday in a chorus of “me too” as the spotlight on sexual violence and harassment in Hollywood turned to other industries. Like politics.
More than 240 women around the state Capitol, including some of the most influential women in Sacramento politics, signed an open letter Tuesday to declare that sexual harassment, and a culture that encourages it, exists in Sacramento.
Many said they had been harassed at some point in their careers and wanted to dispel any myths that women in high positions are insulated from workplace harassment and violence.
“This is an opportunity to bring this out in the open in Sacramento and change the culture moving forward,” said Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood (Los Angeles County).
Burke said she was surprised to find rampant sexual harassment in a building of well-educated and well-regarded people. Burke, who’s been a lawmaker for three years, said she experienced it herself, including on one occasion when a male legislator continually moved close to her and made “painfully inappropriate” comments. When she turned to a male colleague for help, she said she was disappointed he would not stand up for her.
Lawmakers and legislative staffers are part of a growing number of women who have taken to Facebook and Twitter to say the alleged sexual abuses surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein aren’t confined to one man or one industry. Some characterized the male-dominated hierarchy in state politics as a breeding ground for misbehavior, much like the film industry.
One by one, women in state politics took to social media to post “me too” messages with some simply sharing the two words and others disclosing long-closeted stories of being propositioned and harassed, belittled and demeaned and cornered and groped.
“What surprises me the most is that some women tell me this is the cost of doing business in the Capitol, and that makes me angry and frustrated,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens (Los Angeles County), who is chair of the legislative women’s caucus and also signed the letter.
Garcia said two weeks after she was sworn into office in 2012, a senior lobbyist grabbed her buttocks. When she told a male legislator, she said, he told her she should keep quiet. There have been other instances of groping and harassment, Garcia said, as she has asked for men in powerful positions to support her bills.
She said she’s also suffered repercussions as she’s begun to confront the inappropriate behavior.
“I have individuals say I’m overreacting or I’m crazy and they don’t want to work with me,” Garcia said. “I have donors who don’t come to my fundraisers. I have felt the consequences.”
The letter started off after a venting session Friday between a group of Capitol women, said government relations executive Adama Iwu. It now includes a website — We Said Enough — for women to share their stories. The letter says many women leaders in politics remained silent about abuses out of shame or fear that the accused in power could derail their careers. Several echoed those feelings in interviews with The Chronicle.
“Sometimes we think these are isolated instances — they are not,” said Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park (Los Angeles County), who signed the letter.
Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino (San Bernardino County), said she signed the letter along with her female legislative staffers, who have told her about men in the Capitol who make it known when their wives are out of town.
“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who signed the letter. “What we are saying is we’ve got your back.”
Leyva and Skinner both said they have not experienced abuse in the Capitol themselves, but have heard from those who have.
Women who work around the Capitol said the harassment extends to lobbyists.
Jennifer Fearing, who runs Fearless Advocacy, a lobbying and consulting firm in Sacramento, said female lobbyists, whose jobs involve persuading lawmakers to vote certain ways, are often put in uncomfortable situations.
Fearing said she’s grown tired of the amount of time and energy she has to put into navigating what is appropriate and what is not, from being called “baby” in the Capitol hallway to invasive questions about her personal life and bullying when she has rebuffed advances.
In one case, she felt so uncomfortable with a legislative staffer that she refused to be alone with him.
She said she would like to help create a culture where women name names and stop being so polite. But she knows it’s not easy to call out harassment in the moment.
“If a senator walks by me in the hall and says, ‘Hey baby,’ how would that go if I said I’m not your baby?” Fearing said. “That could cost me ... I’m tired of expending all this energy. And I’m frankly worried about younger women.”
Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, a public relations professional in Sacramento and former Republican legislative staffer, said she used to think the sexual harassment she experienced inside the Capitol was part of politics. She declined to give specifics, but said she hoped signing the letter would empower women moving forward.
“In the past, I was afraid to say anything,” Lockhart said. “The person behaving this way was in a place of power and could do things that would impact my career negatively or hurt other people I worked with. It was difficult to speak out.”
Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount (Los Angeles County), said the Legislature must do better.
“Sexual harassment is widespread, in politics, in journalism, in academia, in entertainment and in too many places. And it has to stop,” Rendon said. “The Assembly takes our responsibility to prevent any sexual harassment very seriously, both in terms of training and reporting.”