Sex Scandals Shouldn’t Be Ousting Politicians
Backroom deals that oust politicians like Katie Hill are unfair. Luckily there is a readily available remedy.
It was Halloween. Katie Hill, a California Democrat, was in the well of the House of Representatives, giving her farewell-to-Congress speech — before even finishing her first term. The 32-year-old was a rising star in a class of rising stars — a smart, compelling campaigner who knocked off a Republican incumbent to win her district north of Los Angeles and help Democrats take the House. Now, she was roadkill.
As Hill herself tacitly acknowledged, her affair with a young female campaign staffer was a bad idea even if it predated her arrival in Washington, D.C. But she rightly lit into the dissemination of nude photos of her, which she accused her estranged husband of taking without her knowledge and putting in the hands of tabloids. Indeed, there are men who have survived worse allegations, such as Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, also a Californian, who had an affair with a staffer and is facing 60 charges relating to misappropriation of funds. Donald Trump, who faces civil suits for sexual harassment, basically admitted to sexual assault in that Access Hollywood interview.
This is nuts. A system where some members are quickly forced out because of behind-the-scenes pressure and others are allowed to linger is not only opaque, it’s unfair. It doesn’t set up a clear deterrent for behavior ranging from icky to illegal. Hill’s constituents never got to decide if she should be taken to the electoral woodshed or the gallows. Neither did the Minnesotans who had twice elected Sen. Al Franken. There should be a better way. And there is: Congressional reprimands that castigate the sinners but leave the question of absolution in the hands of voters.
Right now, an accused congressman or congresswoman is leaned on to resign so the party needn’t suffer embarrassment. That’s reportedly what happened to Hill, who allowed that she was also leaving because of the grim prospect of hundreds of more images being leaked out in a drip, drip of shaming. But the point stands — sex scandals should be up to the voters to decide because it’s how the country expresses what is its shifting moral calculus. A high-pressure…