JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP/KMOX) – Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon called claims that a state senator from his own party made unwanted sexual advances toward interns “deeply troubling” on Thursday and said they raise questions about his ability to serve in office. The lawmaker, who has denied any inappropriate behavior, reiterated that he has no plans to resign.
Related Story: Missouri Senate Report: Intern Claims Sexual Harassment
A day after state Senate leaders released a report detailing allegations by one former intern against Democratic Sen. Paul LeVota, they launched another inquiry based on claims from a second woman. It will be handled by an ethics committee of which LeVota is no longer a member.
Missouri Representative Stacy Newman of Clayton tells KMOX that there’s a culture at the state capitol that perpetuates this type of behavior and it is wrong.
“What we’re finding out, and many of us have experienced this for years, is that this culture that gender harassment is acceptable,” says Newman. “Sexual harassment in any business, in any place of work, is unacceptable. It’s clealy unacceptable in our state capitol and that’s what needs to be addressed.”
Senator Jill Schupp of St. Louis County says that she is disappointed and angry that this kind of behavior is going on in Jefferson City.
“Even as facts continue to emerge, the allegations against Sen. LeVota to date are deeply troubling and raise serious questions about his ability to continue to serve his constituents,” Nixon said in a statement. “Sexual harassment must not be tolerated.”
LeVota, 47, who lives in Independence and has a wife and two daughters, had on Wednesday denied claims by the first intern, saying he never acted inappropriately and did not plan to resign. LeVota said Thursday he’s received both support and calls for his resignation, and plans to continue to serve and cooperate as the Senate panel reviews the new allegations.
“The Missouri Senate is the jurisdictional organization that decides on the eligibility of its members, not outside parties making knee-jerk reactions to gain political points,” LeVota said in a statement, adding that he’ll accept the committee’s findings.
The Missouri Constitution allows the full Senate to remove a member by a two-thirds majority vote. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said Thursday that he’s referring the new allegations to a Senate ethics committee and requesting members make a recommendation to the full Senate. LeVota has been replaced on that committee.
“Two young women have come forward with serious allegations against Senator Paul LeVota, some of which have been corroborated by evidence of text messages,” says Sen. Claire McCaskill. “I believe Senator LeVota needs to seriously consider whether he can continue to serve.”
The former interns’ claims add to a tumultuous year in Missouri politics, during which former Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned on the last day of the legislative session after acknowledging that he had exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old Capitol intern.
Former intern Taylor Hirth said LeVota sent her “inappropriate” text messages while she worked in his office in 2010, as first reported by The Kansas City Star. Hirth, who was 24 at the time, described those messages to The Associated Press as “sexual in nature” and said LeVota, who served as House minority leader at the time, invited her to his Jefferson City duplex.
When Hirth declined, saying she does not drink alone with married men, LeVota said “good rule,” according to screenshots from 2010 that Hirth said she had saved on her cellphone.
“You are smoking & funny & smart, all around cool chick. As far as ‘the moves,’ I’m in if you are,” read one text that Hirth said came from LeVota. “If not, remember that I think you’re a cool chick, I like you, & we can be friends. Got it?”
LeVota denied Hirth’s claims to The Star.
Hirth came forward after the report Wednesday about the sexual harassment complaint by a former intern for LeVota in this past legislative session. The report said that intern claimed a pattern of sexual harassment that included “unwelcome text messages and explicit requests for sexual activity” from the senator.
The intern said she spent the night at LeVota’s Jefferson City duplex after drinking at a lobbyist event on Jan. 26 and declined what she considered to be an explicit request for sex, according to the report. The intern also said she received texts from LeVota in January, including messages describing her as “perfect and beautiful” and questions about her weekend activities.
LeVota told investigators he did not make any sexual advances to the intern and that she never was in his duplex.
The intern said she felt retaliated against when she rebuked what she viewed as sexual advances by LeVota, and Hirth similarly said LeVota acted in a “snide” and “sarcastic” manner toward her after she declined his advances.
Hirth, who would like to see an independent investigation and believes LeVota should resign, said she considered reporting LeVota’s behavior at the time but feared it could hurt her chances of finding a job in politics.
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