Author: Ashley Goudeau
The #MeToo movement hit Texas politics when The Daily Beast published an article about the "Burn Book of Bad Men," a spreadsheet floating around the Texas State Capitol listing acts of sexual misconduct by lawmakers.
"We've got a real problem going on in the Texas Capitol," said former State Sen. Wendy Davis.
Davis was elected to represent Fort Worth in the Texas Senate in 2008. She went on to become the 2014 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate.
Davis said she didn’t know the book existed while she was in office, but isn’t surprised; she has dealt with misconduct personally.
"At a social function with other legislators, a newly sworn-in House member touched me in an incredibly inappropriate way. I don't believe he knew I was a senator at the time,” Davis recalled.
Davis’ story is just one of many. Sometimes the occurrences are less audacious, but raise an eyebrow nonetheless. For instance, on May 13, 1983 a story in the Lubbock Evening Journal shows a stripper giving a lap dance to a representative right outside of the chambers during session. It was a birthday gift from his colleagues.
"I think there are sometimes subconscious ways that we communicate about women that demean them nonetheless,” Davis said.
The Texas House and Senate have processes to file complaints but since 2011, none have been filed.
“You're too fearful that you're going to suffer some consequence from that. So many of these young women that are working in the Capitol are there because they have dreams and ambitions for themselves,” Davis said.
Rather than out the representative who touched her, Davis held him accountable in her own way.
“Because I was a senator though, I had the power to make sure that, in alignment with other House members and State Senators, we could keep this individual from passing legislation, unless and until he came and apologized to me. It took him three sessions before he finally did that. And in those first two sessions he wasn't able to get a single bill passed.”
But the power she had as a senator is something she didn't have in the 1980s.
"When I was a young single mom and I was waiting tables as a second job in addition to my full time job to try and make ends meet, I had an experience one evening when a gentleman that I was waiting on put his hand up the back of my skirt and ran it up the back of my leg while his wife was literally sitting across the table from him. And I didn't feel like I could do anything about it because I knew that I was depending on the tip I was going to earn from that person to pay my babysitter that night,” Davis recalled. “There are women all over America that are in that position.”
When asked if Wendy today would tell her younger self to speak up, she paused.
"No," Davis said with a sigh. "And I'll tell you why.
“When we have the opportunity to speak on behalf of women who are in such vulnerable positions they can't speak up, we need to make sure that we take the responsibility to do that. What I don't want to do is express some judgment on a person who is in a vulnerable workplace, in a vulnerable position in terms of how precarious their financial lives are and the risk they might take coming forward. I don't ever want to come across as looking as though I'm judging a young person, or not so young person, who's experiencing that and not reporting it.”
“I get it,” Davis added. “I know why people don't report when they're in such vulnerable spaces. That's why it's up to us in the policy-making world and other wise to begin to create such a system of intolerance for that type of behavior that ultimately we do create a safe space for people who are in those vulnerable workplaces and we give them the room to feel like they can speak up. Right now I just don't feel like we've done that yet.”
For elected officials, the ultimate way to hold them accountable is in the ballot box. And the only way voters will learn of their transgressions is if lawmakers make it safe to report the bad behavior happening under the Dome.