The only person with the power to stop Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s political career was Ruben Kihuen.
One year ago, Mr. Kihuen was a rising star in the Democratic Party. He had the appeal, heritage and story to be a force in politics for decades. Catching the eye of former Sen. Harry Reid didn’t hurt either. In his mid-20s, Mr. Kihuen earned election to the state Assembly in 2006. After two terms, he moved up to the Nevada Senate. In 2016, Mr. Kihuen won a competitive Democrat primary for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, a strong Democrat seat with a sizable percentage of Hispanic voters.
He labeled himself the first “Dreamer” elected to Congress. He was born in Mexico before his family came legally to the United States when he was eight. They overstayed their visa, however, becoming illegal immigrants. The 1986 Immigration Reform Act changed that and gave them legal status.
To the public, he was right out of central casting.
To some female staffers and lobbyists, however, he was a menace. One year ago, one of his female staffers accused him of sexual harassment during his 2016 congressional bid. Other allegations soon followed. Mr. Kihuen announced he would stay in office but not seek re-election. The House Ethics Committee then investigated Mr. Kihuen’s behavior and released its report last week.
Its findings, supported by witness interviews and hundreds of text messages, are unequivocal. Mr. Kihuen sexually harassed young females whose jobs required they work with him.
The committee concluded that Mr. Kihuen “violated clauses 1 and 2 of the Code of Official Conduct by making persistent and unwanted advances toward women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities.” This included two women who credibly accused him of grabbing “the back of their thigh or their buttocks while they were alone in an office with him.”
Mr. Kihuen also sent scores of inappropriate text messages to a Carson City lobbyist. He asked her what color her panties were and told her she looked great in black but that she would look better naked. Also concerning is that the committee found that Mr. Kihuen “did not own up to his actions.”
Mr. Kihuen exhibited that attitude in texts he sent after the allegations first came out. “I’m now afraid that more will come out if I wait too long to announce I won’t seek re-election,” Mr. Kihuen wrote. He refused to quit immediately because “I can’t afford to pay my bills if I resign.”
For that reason, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mr. Kihuen tried to revive his political career. But that would be a long-shot gamble in the #MeToo era. In all likelihood, Ruben Kihuen’s days in elected office are behind him and a lesson in lost promise and arrogance.