DES MOINES | The Republican leader of the Iowa Senate announced plans Tuesday to release an internal review conducted in the wake of a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement and to enlist a former GOP senator to advise him on workplace culture.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said he was reversing course by agreeing to make public the report compiled through interviews with GOP Senate staffers following an adverse jury verdict that led to a $1.75 million payout settling a lawsuit from Kirsten Anderson, a former Republican Senate caucus employee.
“As this process has unfolded, it has become clear to me that we are in need of change and our employees deserve better,” Dix said in a statement. “Sexual harassment is a serious issue in the American workplace and Senate Republicans are going to use this regrettable incident to show Iowans and Americans how it is appropriately addressed.”
To that end, Dix said he has enlisted former Ambassador Mary Kramer to advise him on workplace culture. Kramer, a former West Des Moines senator and George W. Bush administration ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean who also has been a corporate human resources officer, will assist as a volunteer. Her career in human resources and as a “tireless advocate for women” will help ensure the legislative workplace is free of harassment and discrimination, he said.
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Kramer indicated she was dismayed by Anderson’s assertions and concluded there was a need for “culture reform” in the Iowa Senate.
“I have accepted Sen. Dix’s invitation to serve as an adviser because, as a result of my conversations with him, I am convinced he is sincerely committed to ensuring that employees of the Iowa Senate work in a safe and healthy environment,” Kramer said in a statement.
Dix said he also plans to re-engage in efforts with the Iowa House to identify and procure human resources assistance for the Legislature.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said last week she planned to go ahead with hiring a human resources director despite Dix’s change of plans to forego that, at least for now.
The Shell Rock senator also shifted gears Tuesday after previously refusing to release the internal review, saying before that the interviews conducted with Senate GOP caucus employees were done under an expectation of confidentiality. He now plans to release the review document by week’s end — a move applauded by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“I think it’s really positive steps in the right direction and I want to commend him on that,” the Republican governor told her weekly news conference about Dix’s plans to bring in Kramer and release the report.
“There’s been a lot that has come to light nationally and just everywhere, so I think it’s really important that people take this seriously and they do everything they can to make sure that everyone regardless of gender can work in a safe environment,” Reynolds added.
She told reporters she has talked privately with Dix about these issues, but has not seen the report Dix plans to release.
Workplace rules became an issue at the Statehouse after trial testimony in the lawsuit brought by Anderson, a former Senate Republican caucus staff communications director who alleged she worked in a “toxic environment” and was fired in 2013 hours after complaining of sexual harassment.
“I absolutely condemn harassment of any type,” said Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, “During my time as Senate president, I have been and will continue to be committed to ensuring the Iowa Senate is a harassment-free environment for all employees and the taxpayers of this great state. Harassment should not and will not be tolerated in the Iowa Senate.”
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines, who last week called for Dix and Whitver to release the findings of the review, called Tuesday’s announcement “another partisan response to the serious problem of sexual harassment in the Iowa Capitol.”
“Sen. Dix, Sen. Whitver and other Senate Republicans still have not apologized to Kirsten Anderson for the sexual harassment she experienced and they refuse to acknowledge that she was fired for being a whistleblower,” Petersen said in a statement.
“Because the only information we have about this new proposal is coming from the news media,” she noted, “it is hard to assess whether this will make the Legislature a safe and welcoming environment for all employees, whether Iowa taxpayers will be protected in the future and whether the Legislature will take steps necessary to protect the rights of those who raise concerns about harassment.”
Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price reiterated his position that Dix should step down as Senate majority leader, saying “the unacceptable secrecy and pattern of mistakes make it clear that we cannot trust Sen. Dix to make the Capitol a safe working environment or manage our tax dollars. He needs to go.”