Illinois political parties key to purging sexual harassment
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois political campaigns are traditionally rough-and-tumble, transitory affairs dominated by a good-ol’-boy environment that breeds sexual harassment, intimidation, and bullying, a report on women in politics issued last week found.
The Illinois Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access Panel’s review of barriers women face to success in politics and governing, convened after the #MeToo anti-harassment movement swept through the Illinois Statehouse, offered expansive advice for ending what it found is a longstanding culture that marginalizes women, their aspirations and ability to contribute, and worse.
Here are key things to know about the issue.
Last year’s resurgence of the #MeToo campaign, which felled powerful men in entertainment, the media and politics, hit Illinois last fall. Early this year, when the Illinois Democratic Party Chairman, Michael Madigan of Chicago, was forced to remove two campaign workers in his political organization for harassing co-workers, the nation’s longest-serving state House speaker named a three-woman panel to investigate the issue and make recommendations.
More accusations followed, derailing the careers of both Democrats and Republicans. The report was compiled after “listening sessions” across Illinois by state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake and Rep. Carol Ammons of Champaign. All are Democrats but they organized as a nonprofit and maintain a nonpartisan status.
TRUE BELIEVER TO TRULY DISENCHANTED
The report includes a stark description of the sometimes-thrilling, sometimes-disheartening campaign trail, which not always warmly welcomes women, particularly the uninitiated. The authors know whereof they speak. Mendoza, a Latina, was just 28 when she won a seat in Madigan’s House in 2000. Bush represents a district that was solidly Republican for decades before her arrival. Ammons is one of the rare black legislators – not to mention a black woman – from outside the Chicago metropolitan region.
Most campaigns are fueled by volunteers who step up because they’re true believers in a candidate or cause, the report noted. They’re not protected by federal or state anti-discrimination laws. The candidate, campaign managers and contributors hold the power and lines of authority are often blurred or fluid.
“Sometimes, campaign workers do not know who their boss is, making reporting misconduct even more difficult,” the report said.
Campaign workers can find themselves isolated from co-workers by the geographical demands of a campaign, and “the investment and all-consuming nature of a campaign can make people singularly focus on the ultimate goal of winning the election, at the expense of other principles,” the authors wrote.
POLITICAL PARTY PRIORITY
It’s up to the political parties in Illinois to fix the problem, according to the report. They must invest the time, money and will because “the leaders of political parties who don’t get this message, this is a train and it’s going to drive over them,” Bush said in an interview.
The report recommends that parties adopt clear anti-harassment policies that are non-negotiable and go beyond the restrictive legal definition of sexual harassment involving superior and subordinate. They must provide anti-harassment training to everyone involved in campaigns and offer funding to only those campaigns that adopt strict anti-harassment policies and participate in training.
They should establish independent procedures for receiving complaints and an “independent body” to investigate them. Prohibit retaliation, the authors counseled, provide support services provided for victims, and ban non-disclosure agreements to silence allegations.
Recognizing that pushing too hard could discourage the natural friendship and camaraderie of a campaign, it suggests “reasonable policies for consensual romantic relationships and alcohol use.” It goes so far as to recommend a “One Ask Rule.” You may ask a co-worker out socially one time, but if declined, that’s it.
Women make up 50.9 percent of the state’s population, so why shouldn’t they hold half the elective offices?
The report challenges the parties to work toward that goal, to hire a “director of diversity” to recruit an expanded field of candidates, set up training programs to help women run for office, require broad diversity in any pool of candidates considered for each political vacancy or leadership position and establish an advisory board to monitor results.
How is Illinois doing? Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth is one of 21 women in the U.S. Senate; three of 18 members of the state’s congressional delegation are women, all Democrats. With Mendoza, Republican Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti and Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan – the party chairman’s daughter who’s not seeking a fifth term – make up half of the statewide constitutional officers.
In the General Assembly, 64 of 177 members are women, or 36 percent.
The report, the authors said, “is a starting point, a baseline of changes that need to be implemented immediately if party leadership is truly committed to ending sexual harassment in the workplace and embracing diversity to improve workplace culture.”