A man who protected a sexual harasser for political gain is now leading a state task force on preventing sexual harassment. Talk about mixed messages.
After his swearing-in Monday, Gov. Steve Sisolak issued his first executive order. It created a task force to root out sexual harassment. It’s a noble goal.
Nevada must “examine and address the power inequities, harassment and discrimination reporting failures and flaws in anti-discrimination laws, policies and procedures that have allowed sexual harassment and discrimination to persist,” the order reads.
That’s why the man Sisolak selected to chair the panel — new Attorney General Aaron Ford — is such a strange choice. Ford allowed sexual harassment to flourish in his caucus for years when he led Senate Democrats.
In 2003, then-Speaker Richard Perkins stripped Mark Manendo of his Assembly chairmanship over sexual harassment complaints. That didn’t keep Manendo, a Democrat, from winning a state Senate seat in 2010.
“Manendo’s proclivities to harass and insult women who spurned him were not unknown to most people involved in the Legislature,” former Democrat state Sen. Sheila Leslie wrote in 2017. One year, “a group of female legislators and lobbyists joined forces to warn leadership they would publicly expose his harassing behavior if it continued, but nothing ever came of it.”
So what did Ford do about Manendo when he became the Senate Democratic leader after the 2014 election? He could have expelled him from the caucus or called for an investigation. Instead, he accepted a $5,000 contribution Manendo made to the caucus. It gets worse. After Democrats took the Senate majority in 2016, Ford named Manendo a committee chairman.
This is a textbook example of creating “power inequities,” that allow “sexual harassment and discrimination to persist.”
Solely from a political perspective, Ford’s actions made sense. After the 2016 elections, Democrats had a slim 11-10 majority. If Ford had alienated Manendo, Manendo could have voted for a Republican as Senate majority leader, depriving Ford of the powerful perch he so desperately sought.
Political considerations even oozed out of Ford’s eventual decision to conduct an investigation into Manendo’s conduct. Ford gave Manendo a verbal rebuke only after he no longer needed his vote. Ford then refused to produce the results of the taxpayer-funded investigation. That wasn’t surprising because it showed “at least 14 incidents of inappropriate conduct during the 2017 legislative session.”
Manendo committed the offense, but Ford increased his power — the worst thing you can give a sexual harasser.
Manendo is not an isolated example. Before Ruben Kihuen won election to Congress, he served in the state Senate under Ford. A congressional investigation found that Kihuen sexually harassed at least one Nevada lobbyist. She accused him of taking “a palmful of my butt” during the 2015 session. The lobbyist said she was afraid she’d “lose my job” if she told anyone.
Rather than chair this task force, Ford should explain to the public why he allowed sexual harassment to exist under his nose for years.
Contact Victor Joecks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.