As a national spotlight descends on the Texas Capitol over one state senator’s outrageous behavior, new questions are being asked about why one legislative leader lied to reporters about sexual harassment cases at the Capitol.
On November 7, the Daily Beast published an article sharing the accounts of women in the Texas Legislature who have been the victim of “secret sexual predators.” The article alleged the existence of a secret list of abusive men at the capitol but refrained from naming names.
Immediately there were questions about whether anyone in charge had been made aware of the alleged abuses. In an interview with the Texas Tribune, State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth) refused to answer questions on the matter, telling reporters that he had not received any complaints.
“There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any,” said Geren. “I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”
As chairman of the Committee on House Administration, Geren is tasked with investigating allegations of sexual harassment and assault. However, one female capitol staffer told the Tribune that she felt that Geren’s committee was not a safe place to report such behavior.
Geren is notorious for being intoxicated on the House floor and in committee hearings. For years he maintained an intimate “open secret” relationship with a female lobbyist. (Geren and the lobbyist were married following the most recent legislative session.) Those circumstances may have contributed to mistrust of his ability to pursue sexual harassment claims.
In light of the abuses, there were calls for the Texas House and Senate to update and improve their deficient sexual harassment policies. On December 1, Geren’s committee met to adopt an updated sexual harassment policy for the House.
At that meeting, Geren suddenly reversed course and confirmed to KXAN reporter Phil Prazan that there had been multiple “informal sexual harassment reports to him as House Administration chair” in the past, that “he took steps to address it between the participants,” and that all of the cases had been “confidentially addressed.”
When it’s happened in the past we’ve investigated it, talked not only to the person that complained, but addressed it with the people the complaint was against to determine if there really was an issue and if there was an issue we tried to resolve it between those two people if possible. If not then it would have gone further. Fortunately, we’ve been able to resolve it between the two people the few times that it’s happened over the nine years I’ve been doing this.
That’s a far cry from his earlier, “There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any.”
On Wednesday, December 6, the Daily Beast finally named names, sharing several sordid accounts of sexual harassment and assault involving State Sen. Borris Miles (D–Houston), who served in the House from 2007 until 2017.
In one case, a legislative intern recounted that then-Rep. Miles offered her money for sex in front of a crowd of shocked capitol staffers at the Continental Club on Sine Die in 2013. In other cases, Miles was witnessed attempting to “forcibly kiss” an unwilling woman at another downtown bar.
From the Daily Beast article, it is clear that a large number of legislative staff, lawmakers, lobbyists, and journalists were aware of those incidents as well as others. It is not known whether those incidents or any of the others were reported to Geren’s committee or, if so, how they were resolved.
What is now clear is that Geren spent the three weeks preceding these revelations lying about an absence of sexual harassment and assault cases at the Capitol.
Texans must demand answers. And we must demand an end to the toxic culture in Austin that has allowed abuses like these to go unreported and unaddressed for years. It is time that the safety and dignity of women be placed ahead of business-as-usual at the Texas Capitol.