By Adam Pagnucco.
With the #Metoo movement continuing to impact society, the actions of the General Assembly to limit harassment and abuse are coming under scrutiny. As a result, some are calling for harassment victims to start naming names. Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-17) and House candidate Sara Love (D-16) did just that last week. But there’s another side to this. On Friday, Kim Propeack, CASA de Maryland’s long-time political and communications director, commented on why naming names isn’t so simple on Facebook. With her permission, we reprint her remarks below.
The raging debate about the testimony before the Womens Caucus on sexual harassment in the Maryland legislature has been fascinating. I am so proud of Nina Smith and so many others that came forward. But I have been absolutely perplexed by the comments from colleagues and on fb and other platforms expressing confusion about why people do not come out publicly. I want to share two stories from my own career that I think illustrates perfectly the thinking and or impact that challenging abuse in the legislature can have.
Many moons ago, my buddy Natali Faní-González testified against an anti-immigrant bill supported by then freshmen Delegates McDonough and Impallaria, both notorious anti-immigrants. As she and I left the committee room and stood in the hallway, we were accosted by the two delegates. Impallaria stood over Natali yelling at the top of his lungs that Natali must be an illegal. To underscore how racially targeted this was, Natali may have been literally the only Latina lobbyist or staffer in Annapolis at that time. McDonough was similarly standing over me screaming at me in the middle of the hallway. A male lobbyist who saw this going on ran over to physically block McDonough because he appeared close to striking me. McDonough then shoved that lobbyist and me to the ground. Natali and I filed ethics complaints against the two delegates. Finding of insufficient evidence despite the fact that this occurred in front of hundreds of people. But the male lobbyist who came to my aid let us know he really wanted the whole thing to go away. He said, “I have a professional career to think about.” He didn’t think he would be taken seriously in the future if he was embroiled in an ethics process.
Move ahead to my other example. In 2003, the late great Senator Gwen Britt was the lead Senate sponsor of the MD DREAM Act. And so her Chief of Staff decided that I should date him (I am not not naming that dude; I seriously don’t remember his name.) After weeks of uncomfortable conversations with him, I spent a particularly queasy hour on the phone with him dodging his repeated requests to go out on date while he poured over my looks what we would do, etc. I repeatedly went back to the stupid trope about how really it wasn’t him but I was involved with someone. I didn’t want to insult him because he was staffing my priority bill. So finally, I shut down the conversation with a definitive no. The following day, he starts actively undermining passage of the bill. He recruited people in the Senator’s district to attack her for having introduced the bill and recruited anti-immigrant voices to come down to Annapolis and testify against. Despite his efforts, the bill was voted out of the General Assembly. Then onto the Governor. This guy, the Chief of Staff to the lead sponsor of the bill, then recruited people to reach out to the Governor’s office to veto the bill.
I’m not laying Ehrlich’s decision at his feet. Bobby Ehrlich could be stupid on his own. But me as a relatively seasoned activist and certainly no wilting flower, got a serious lesson on how much more difficult your life gets when you don’t play game. And more importantly, how much the folks you are working for can be hurt. These are just two incidents among the various grab ass and more across the years. But I thought they were particularly relevant to respond to the Why Don’t We Just Name Names question.