SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) — A Bay Area lawmaker described a culture of powerful politicians crossing the line to KPIX 5 on Monday, giving new indications of just how bad the climate of harassment is at the state capitol.
Republican Assemblywoman Catharine Baker from the Tri-Valley told KPIX 5 she isn’t surprised by the latest allegation that State Senator Tony Mendoza brought then 19-year old intern Jennifer Kwart to his hotel room during a trip to San Jose for the Democratic Convention in 2008 and offered her a drink from the mini-bar.
Kwart, now a staffer with State Assemblyman David Chiu, said she decided to come forward after Mendoza denied an allegation from another intern that he had invited her to the Sacramento home he shared with State Senate President Kevin Deleon to go over her resume.
“When asked if she surprised at more women coming forward,” Baker replied, “Sadly I’m not. It’s something that is pervasive. It happens in a lot of work places, but it is particularly pervasive in places of power like the Capitol. I’ve had more inappropriate advances and touching as a candidate and elected official in the last three years than in the prior 15 years.”
Deleon has hired an outside law firm to review the matter and to handle any further allegations against state senators.
“It’s a welcome move, getting it out of committee where it is members policing members. But it’s just a tiny, tiny step,” said Baker.
Deleon also moved out of house over he shared with Mendoza.
But for some — like Christine Pelosi, who heads the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus — it’s not enough.
“Look, if the Senate President Pro Tem doesn’t see fit to have him as a roommate, I’m not sure so sure why we have to have him as the chair of a powerful committee,” said Pelosi
The California Senate announced Sunday it will hire an outside legal team to investigate all complaints of sexual misconduct and recommend discipline following the new allegations against Mendoza.
The Senate has long handled harassment complaints internally by human resources employees that report to a committee of five lawmakers and has not made details of complaints or discipline public. Women who work in and around the Capitol have argued that process stops them from coming forward over fears of political and professional retaliation.
The outside legal team will make public any complaints and discipline at the discretion of victims and whistleblowers, the Senate Rules Committee members said in a joint statement. The Rules Committee and the Senate Democratic Women’s Caucus will work “expeditiously” to hire an outside legal team, the statement said.
However, Baker said that the changes in the State Capitol will have to me more drastic.
“Just hiring a law firm doesn’t say anything about the protections. Second, we have to have consequences,” said Baker. “I’ve been in settings where hands have gone places that they absolutely don’t belong, and I have had to protect staff at different times.”
Baker said that while she has reported incidents when they happened to other people in the buildings, but noted that she has not reported her own.
“Mine happened so quickly that I haven’t,” said Baker. “If you start focusing on it being just one particular person- and what did they do- you miss that it is a pervasive issue in the building and that we have to take care of it.