The sexual harassment problem in the Maryland legislature

Today the Washington Post published a piece by Maryland state legislator Ariana B. Kelly who writes that there has long been a problem with sexual harassment in Maryland politics:

Before I was elected to the state legislature, I worked as an advocate in Annapolis. I knew there was a certain “old boys club” culture that women worked around to get their jobs done. There were offices you didn’t enter without a buddy and committees that had a reputation for being hostile to women. The women legislators I admired were all tough as nails. To do their jobs well, they had to be…

The first time a married senior colleague grabbed my rear end, I was shocked. It was my first legislative session, and I was still getting to know people. Two of my male colleagues witnessed this sustained and shameless public groping. I was utterly humiliated. The next morning I went into a female legislator’s office, closed the door and cried.

We talked about reporting the incident but concluded it would publicly embarrass a senior colleague, his allies might rush to his defense and I could be accused of making a big deal out of nothing. If politics is all about relationships, that would not help my career.

Instead, I had a direct conversation with the member and told him, “I look forward to a long productive working relationship with you. Please don’t ever grab my ass again.” Until his retirement, our relationship was always awkward, and I suspect I lost opportunities to work on certain issues as a result. That’s the thing about sexual harassment: Women are never sure exactly how much of their professional potential it limits.

The same power dynamics exist in politics that exist in Hollywood. It’s all about relationships and some people have the power to hurt (or help) other people’s careers. Also, like Hollywood, Maryland’s House of Delegates has long been dominated by progressives. Democrats have run the chamber since 1992, long before Kelly was elected in 2010. Kelly doesn’t identify the person who harassed her by name or party. Was she worried about embarrassing a senior member of her own party or about creating a backlash from Republicans? It’s not clear.

Kelly goes on to say that in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape, she met with the House Speaker to discuss her experiences and those of other women she has spoken to. She’s clearly capitalizing on the moment but the overall effort sounds worthwhile and maybe long overdue. Earlier this month the legislature announced it was updating its sexual harassment policy to track harassment allegations against lawmakers. Governing reports:

Maryland will track allegations of sexual harassment made against state lawmakers, and politicians who violate the state’s code of conduct can be expelled from the legislature.

Leaders of the General Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to update the guidelines for reporting and tracking complaints against state lawmakers — though the identity of the accused wrongdoer will remain confidential.

The new policies come amid a national conversation about holding accountable people accused of sexual misconduct, and they follow a tide of allegations of impropriety by high-profile men in Hollywood, the media and politics.


Lawmakers in California have been trying to deal with a similar problem in their legislature.