EDITORIAL: Ruben Kihuen has been fatally compromised

Ruben Kihuen said Tuesday that he won’t resign his House seat in the wake of misconduct allegations, despite mounting pressure. By digging in, he risks doing further disservice to his constituents and the state.

Rep. Kihuen is accused of making “repeated, unwanted propositions for dates and sex” toward a female member of his campaign team during the 2016 election, according to an article last week in BuzzFeed. The woman told the website that he also touched her thighs on two occasions. She said she eventually left the campaign due to his behavior.

Rep. Kihuen issued the boilerplate apology “for anything that I may have said or done that may have made her feel uncomfortable.” And rather than defend their fellow Democrat, his colleagues wasted no time calling for him to leave town. The head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demanded Rep. Kihuen’s resignation, while fellow Nevada Reps. Dina Titus and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats, piled on.

Reasonable people can debate whether such a swift and sure reaction was the result of genuine outrage, political calculation or grandstanding — or some combination of all three. But it speaks volumes about Rep. Kihuen’s future in Congress that even those who know him best and have nurtured his political career have scurried away in a hurry.

Yes, it’s important, particularly in today’s raging maelstrom of sexual harassment allegations, to maintain some sense of proportion. Lumping Rep. Kihuen and his clumsy advances in with lascivious predators such as Harvey Weinstein hardly advances the cause.

“We need to be careful about a rush to judgment and conflating different kinds of situations,” Laura Kipnis, a Northwestern University professor who wrote “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus,” told the Wall Street Journal last week.

Seen in that light, resignation might seem a rather harsh penalty for the transgressions Rep. Kihuen is alleged to have committed — assuming, of course, that more sordid details or additional accusers aren’t standing by. But we’re not dealing with a court of law and legal assertions involving the presumption of innocence. This is the political arena. A tectonic shift is taking place — and with good reason. The damage is clear and irreversible.

Whatever minimal effectiveness Rep. Kihuen had as a neophyte House member has been reduced to nil. His fundraising will dry up, and his party has already run for the exits. He has opened the door for Democratic challengers in the 2018 primary who will hammer him on the sexual misconduct issue. If he survives that race, the criticism will increase exponentially in the general election.

But of greater importance, Rep. Kihuen’s mistakes have fatally compromised his ability to serve. The residents of Nevada’s 4th Congressional District deserve better — as does the entire state. He has an obligation to do what’s best to ensure his constituents have proper representation.

It’s time for Ruben Kihuen to step aside.

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