Republican senators call for Senate hearings on Manendo sexual harassment allegations
Senate Republicans called on Democratic leadership today to begin holding full Senate hearings into the recent sexual harassment allegations against Democratic Sen. Mark Manendo instead of leaving the inquiry to a private investigator.
Republican senators said a private investigation into the allegations won’t allow for a fair and transparent hearing to determine the validity of the allegations. They also called on Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford to release any complaints made against Manendo with names redacted and remove Manendo from his Senate Transportation Committee chairmanship.
Ford confirmed last week that he asked the Legislative Counsel Bureau to retain an independent investigator to look into recent allegations of sexual harassment against Manendo.
The Nevada Constitution allows lawmakers to meet to “consider the character, alleged misconduct, professional competence, or physical or mental health” of a one of their peers and, if the circumstances are serious enough, remove the individual from his or her legislative post by a two-thirds vote. The only lawmaker ever to be removed from the Legislature was Assemblyman Steven Brooks, whose erratic behavior at the beginning of the legislative session included an arrest on allegations that he threatened then-Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, in 2013.
The joint standing rules of the Assembly and state Senate prohibit sexual harassment and allow for a “discreet and impartial” investigation with the complaint assigned to a committee of lawmakers of the appropriate house. Legislators are directed to take “appropriate disciplinary or remedial action” if the sexual harassment policy is broken, but the rules don’t specify what that action might look like.
“An unaccountable, private investigation into these very serious allegations concerning Senator Manendo is not the correct route to ensure a fair, honest, and full hearing to determine the validity of these allegations,” Republican Sen. Becky Harris said in a statement. “Senator Manendo should be judged by his peers and this should happen immediately.”
But Senate Democratic Caucus Executive Director Peter Koltak pushed back on that suggestion Tuesday afternoon, saying in a statement that the purpose of the independent investigator is to make sure that a “thorough, fair investigation takes place” without partisanship.
"Too often, women choose not to come forward with allegations of harassment because they fear being subjected to public humiliation just for speaking up … It's unfortunate that Republican leadership has been blinded by partisanship and is treating this situation as a political opportunity rather than the serious matter that it is,” Koltak said.
Former Democratic Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, who requested the Legislative Counsel Bureau investigate allegations against Manendo in 2003, said Ford’s approach was “entirely appropriate.”
“They’re all partisans. They’re in a political process,” Perkins said. “In a situation like this, it doesn’t belong in a political arena. It belongs in an unbiased, third party’s hands.”
The 2003 probe was inconclusive, Perkins said; investigators were unable to find enough evidence to merit punishment for Manendo. However, Perkins said the allegations influenced his decision not to let Manendo continue as chair of the influential Government Affairs Committee.
Perkins said the investigation shouldn’t be public at this point, but that voters who will decide his political fate should know of the ultimate outcome.
“It needs to remain confidential for the victim’s sake. This isn’t protecting Sen. Manendo. The people who have come forward with allegations -- they need to be protected,” he said. “I do believe that whatever the outcome is should not only be shared with the Republicans in the Senate but with the voters.”
An attorney for Manendo said his client was cooperating with the investigation and that he would ultimately be exonerated. Manendo refused to answer questions about the probe and allegations on Monday.