The House should promptly move out of recess to confirm the recommendations of the committee and formally sanction a far-right lawmaker who publicly identified a young woman who alleged she had been raped by another lawmaker. To allow what Rep. Priscilla Giddings did to go without answer would set a terrible, dangerous precedent.
To review what happened: During the legislative session, a 19-year-old intern who last year worked as a high school page alleged that then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger lured her to his apartment and forcibly raped her. Von Ehlinger, old enough to be her father, admitted to sexual contact with the woman known as Jane Doe but claimed it was consensual.
After a formal hearing, the House Ethics Committee unanimously recommended that von Ehlinger be expelled. He resigned before the full House could vote.
While all this was unfolding, Giddings posted on Facebook and shared in her official newsletter a blog post from an extremist website that included Doe’s real name, photograph and details about her family. Doe’s photo remained on Giddings’ Facebook page for a long time, and she reported that she was subjected to personal harassment because of it. After the hearing, Doe was chased through the halls by Giddings’ far-right supporters and a journalist who disregarded the ethics of her profession, until Doe collapsed in tears.
Giddings has given no real defense for her heartless actions. She’s just played politics and raised dirty money from them.
During last week’s hearing, Giddings showed herself to be fundamentally and profoundly dishonest. When she was asked a simple question of fact, she usually insulted the person asking the question or the committee or Democrats or her opponent in the race for lieutenant governor. Only on rare occasions would she give a straightforward answer to an honest question.
And never in the hearing did she show an ounce of remorse. She never showed any interest in the welfare of the young woman she’d hurt.
So it was not surprising when the committee unanimously voted to recommend that Giddings be formally censured on the House floor and stripped of a minor committee assignment.
But the punishment recommended by the ethics committee, which will have to be voted on by the full House before the next legislative session begins, does not fit the crime. Giddings should be censured, that’s certain. It makes sense to remove her from the Commerce and Human Resources Committee — it is unthinkable that a person who unrepentantly engaged in retaliation against a subordinate for reporting rape should be charged with making decisions about Human Resources policy.
But Giddings has shown no receptiveness or sensitivity to criticism, so censure can’t be expected to alter her behavior.
Giddings deserves punishment, and the committee should have sent a stronger message to deter other members from engaging in similarly craven actions in the future.
The committee should have recommended removing all of Giddings’ committee assignments. Rep. Heather Scott’s assignments were revoked because she made crude, demeaning remarks about other women in the Legislature. Giddings’ actions were far worse than Scott’s. Her victim had less power, and she told the Associated Press that she was subjected to personal harassment by Giddings’ far-right supporters, so much more harm was done.
Giddings conduct was not simply unbecoming to the august body of the House. As multiple lawmakers noted during the course of the hearing, it fell below the basic moral standards expected of any human being. She was cruel. She was heartless. She chose a victim with few means for self-defense. She has never shown remorse for the harm she caused or asked for forgiveness. Why should she be given any?
Though the committee’s recommended discipline is lighter than it ought to be, it must be enforced.
Unless the House rebukes this action, the next time a legislator victimizes someone who works in the Capitol, it’s highly unlikely they will report it at all. Why would they? So they can be publicly identified by that lawmaker’s political allies, chased through the hallways by their political supporters and subjected to further threats and harassment?
If the House does not reconvene, the message will be simple: For lawmakers, there is impunity.