Wednesday afternoon, the House Democratic Caucus (HDC) voted to suspend Representative David Sawyer from his position as Chair of the Committee on Commerce & Gaming. The vote comes after an internal House committee recommended Sawyer be suspended and House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan asked Sawyer not to run for re-election.
House Democratic leadership announced Friday that the third-party investigator hired to investigate accusations of workplace misconduct against Rep. Sawyer had found evidence supporting some of the allegations. Based on these preliminary findings, they called a special meeting of the Committee on Committees to consider suspending Sawyer’s chairmanship and a full HDC meeting afterward to confirm their decision.
Members of the media were barred from attending both the Committee on Committees meeting and the full House Democratic Caucus meeting, but the HDC released the following statement after their vote:
“House Democratic Leadership was briefed on Friday, May 4. We learned the investigator found a pattern of actions toward House staff that created a hostile work environment; improper use of staff for personal issues; and inconsistent statements made by Rep. Sawyer to the Chief Clerk, House Counsel, leadership members, and the investigator…”
“The caucus voted late this afternoon to suspend Rep. Sawyer’s role as committee chair pending completion of the independent investigation, which is expected at the end of the month. The caucus may consider further action after the investigation is completed…”
“House Democrats have been clear that workplace harassment will not be tolerated. Substantiated allegations of workplace misconduct will result in consequences, no matter one’s political party.”
Melanie Morgan, Sawyer’s challenger for Representative of the 29th LD, also issued a statement after the HDC’s vote. She said,
“I am glad to see the House Democratic Caucus chose to believe the many women who came forward at great personal risk. I hope their decision today sends a clear message that enough is enough and that this type of behavior is unacceptable.”
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On Wednesday morning prior to the start of the meetings, Rep. Sawyer’s lawyer, Beth Terrell, sent a letter to House Democratic leadership asking them to hold off judgement until they receive the independent investigator’s final report and recommendations.
Terrell wrote that the House leadership’s recommendation for Sawyer’s chairmanship removal was based on preliminary findings and an incomplete verbal report from the investigator. Terrell asked House Leadership to hold off on making a decision until Rep. Sawyer could be given the same information that leadership was provided with. She also asked that they wait until a written report, complete with systemic change recommendations, is finalized.
“The House Leadership’s decision to publicize and rely on preliminary findings without providing them to Representative Sawyer is deeply troubling,” wrote Terrell.
“The investigator’s final report will include proposed systemic changes and the Leadership should wait to take any action until it has a final report on Representative Sawyer’s conduct and the recommendations about systemic change. The Leadership’s insistence on acting before it has either proves once again that a political agenda – not a desire to make real change – is driving those actions.”
Rep. Sawyer’s statement after the HDC’s vote echos Terrell’s letter.
“It’s not possible to believe or trust in a process that is not transparent or does not present clear facts to the public and all parties affected. Unfortunately the leadership and Caucus have politicized the process while withholding all facts, claiming only they can interpret them. They have also not disclosed their own personal conflicts or attempts to influence this process along the way. I have chosen to be silent to honor the independent investigation this situation so desperately needs to protect all parties affected by such allegations – including those who disagree with the Leadership’s narrative and agenda.
The only conclusion to be drawn from this process is that it is politically motivated by the candidate-filing deadline next week. I support a fair and transparent investigation. This does not reflect that at all. In fact, it reflects poorly on the institution we all have a responsibility to honor.”
We will continue to update this story as it unfolds.