How Texas Senators Responded to Allegations Against Borris Miles, Carlos Uresti

Senators Carlos Uresti, Borris Miles
Senators Carlos Uresti, Borris Miles Sam DeGrave/Illustration by Sunny Sone

Editor’s note: For more context on the responses and allegations, read the full story here.

The Observer reached out to all 31 Texas state senators for comment on the sexual harassment allegations against their colleagues, Senator Borris Miles and Senator Carlos Uresti. You can find Miles’ and Uresti’s response to the Daily Beast allegations here and here.

Here are the questions we sent the other 29 senators:

  1. Do you believe the allegations against the senators, and the women who made them?
  2. Should the senators resign in response to these allegations? Should they face other penalties?
  3. Has the Texas Legislature done enough to address sexual harassment in the past, and is it doing enough in response to these allegations now?
  4. Anything else I should know?

The senators’ responses in full below.

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

“I don’t know enough about the facts of the situation to express an informed opinion. There is no place for sexual harassment in the workplace, in the public or private sector, or otherwise, by either gender. As far as I know, the senators accused have denied the allegations so we will just have to allow for due process for all parties and to make an educated determination following.

It is my understanding that grievance processes are being reviewed and possibly improved or enhanced, by those in charge, across many levels of state government including the Texas House and the Texas Senate.”

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

Do you believe the allegations against the senators, and the women who made them?

I commend the women who have stepped forward to speak out. It takes courage and guts to speak truth about powerful people. It is sad that allegations like this must be made to the press rather than through an independent fair process at the Capitol.  I hope that we can change our policy now so that we can know the truth of these and all future allegations.

Should the Senators resign in response to these allegations? Should they face other penalties?

I find the allegations to be horrific and if they’re found to be true then I would expect action. Right now it’s a decision between the accused and their families to decide how to move forward. Ultimately it will be up to the voters to decide since there isn’t a process right now for us as a body to hold members accountable. We must change that. Anyone engaged in sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination or bullying must be held accountable no matter who they are.

Has the Texas Legislature done enough to address sexual harassment in the past, and is it doing enough in response to these allegations now?

No we haven’t or else victims wouldn’t take their stories of harassment to the press. They would report them to someone who can hold staff, lawmakers and anyone working in the Capitol accountable.

Anything else we should know?

I have asked bill drafters and my staff to work on legislation modeled after US Senator Amy Klobuchar’s bill. I expect a draft bill back soon to share with colleagues and the public.

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response: 

Sexual harassment is a serious and sensitive issue. The Texas Senate policy on sexual harassment should be the first page, not the last, as it is currently in our employee handbook.  This is an issue the Senate Administration Committee, in consultation with the Secretary of the Senate, should review and modify.

Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

Texas will be a better, stronger state when more women join the conversation and the fight for our state’s future, and in order for that to happen, we must stop sexual harassment and abuse of power. I look forward to the Senate Administration Committee’s much-needed work to update sexual harassment policies to protect our Senate employees from sexual harassment.

Due process and a presumption of innocence are critically important to our American justice system. Still, public servants must hold ourselves to a higher standard and higher expectations. Ultimately, it is up to each Senator’s voters & constituents to judge their actions, values, and leadership. I trust voters to bring accountability when and where it is needed.

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

As you may be aware, I serve as Chairwoman of the Senate Administration Committee, and I have been asked by the Lt. Governor  to review the current policy in place and make recommendations of any needed changes. Any allegation against senator or staff will be taken very seriously.

The Administration Committee has posted for a public hearing on Thursday Dec. 14 to review the policy that has been in place in the Senate Employee Policies and Procedures Handbook.

I have and will continue to talk to members and staff about needed changes. This must be a thorough process, and while the Senate has had a policy in place for many years, a review is needed.

I understand there are rumors, innuendos and allegations in both the House and Senate about both members and staff having inappropriate behavior. Sexual harassment should not and will not be tolerated in the Texas Senate.   

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

Do you believe the allegations against the senators, and the women who made them?

It isn’t my place to “believe” or not. My focus is on making certain the Capitol is a place where women are respected and have an avenue to report inappropriate behavior. I think that it is important that when women feel that they’re being harassed or abused that they should have the opportunity to be heard.

Should the senators resign in response to these allegations? Should they face other penalties?

The only thing that I can control is how I conduct myself and demand that my staff behave appropriately at all times. Our office does not tolerate any type of discrimination or harassment. If someone on my staff crosses a line they would be dismissed immediately. I cannot speak to the policies or practices other offices have.

Has the Texas Legislature done enough to address sexual harassment in the past, and is it doing enough in response to these allegations now?

During my time in the Legislature this is the first time I can recall the issue being raised. I think the House has made some positive steps forward and I would like to see the Senate respond in kind.

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

Do you believe the allegations against the senators, and the women who made them?

I’m not privy to all the facts, and I do not have first-hand knowledge of the incidents. However, I do admire the courageous women who are shedding light on the inappropriate behavior that they’ve been subjected to across all industries and institutions, including the legislature.  With that said, I am not in a position to be the judge, jury, and executioner of these or any other sexual harassment allegations.  This is why I proposed that state leaders establish an independent investigative body that would be charged with investigation and oversight of harassment complaints. It is critical that this entity be fully funded and not beholden to any legislator or legislative body. Victims of sexual harassment and discrimination should feel safe to report complaints and be protected from retaliation.    

Should the senators resign in response to these allegations? Should they face other penalties?

As I stated earlier, I’m not privy to the facts involving these allegations. The type of behavior alleged is unacceptable in any employment or social situation. It is even more reprehensible for an elected official considering the inherent power imbalance. Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed.

The fact is that the elected officials that have been accused of these behaviors know the truth.  If in fact they engaged in this behavior, then they should resign.

Unfortunately, unless these women ask for a criminal investigation and without a review board or any other independent investigative body, it’s left up to the elected officials to do the right thing, set the record straight, and make amends with these women, their families, and their constituents. This is not necessarily fair or right, but thankfully through the courage of these women, more attention is being placed on these behaviors and change is beginning to happen.  

Has the Texas Legislature done enough to address sexual harassment in the past, and is it doing enough in response to these allegations now?

Given that no complaints have been filed in recent years in either chamber, no. The Legislature has tried to self-regulate, which has had the practical result of turning a blind eye.  I’m glad both the House and Senate are reviewing and updating existing policies, but without a body that’s truly independent from the Legislature, I don’t think it will be enough.

There should be a process that protects the rights of both the accused and accuser, and it should be independent and impartial. It’s vital that those who come forward feel safe to report, and that she or he won’t be professionally retaliated against for bringing complaints, while at the same time ensuring due process for the accused.

Anything else we should know?

Given the national trend, it’s likely that more allegations will be made. I hope that as legislators, we address it in a comprehensive manner that results in a true culture change.

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

“The Senate is currently reviewing its sexual harassment process and Thursday’s hearing is an important step in ensuring that victims have an appropriate mechanism when coming forward. I am terribly concerned with any allegation of sexual harassment and take the recent reports very seriously.”

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

The Legislature has clearly failed to create a safe environment for women in the Capitol. That must change. All of these accusations are deeply disturbing and should be thoroughly examined. Remarkably, we have no true mechanism or process for doing so in the Texas Senate. If we did, women might not feel compelled to stay silent for years, hoping they don’t run into the aggressor in a Capitol elevator.

That’s part of the reason I sent a letter to Senator Kolkhorst last month seeking a robust and thorough discussion about our internal sexual harassment policy and related laws. The Senate must create an effective means for reporting and investigating allegations as well as following through on those findings. It must happen now.

But in the absence of a meaningful mechanism to handle sexual harassment complaints, I’m not going to appoint myself the final arbiter of each claim. I will, however, continue to advocate for and focus on creating a process that empowers every victim to come forward and ensures that every complaint will be investigated and followed by appropriate consequences. Only then will we be able to guarantee accountability and give those working in the Texas Capitol the protections they deserve.

Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone
Illustration by Sunny Sone

Full response:

Do you believe the allegations against the senators, and the women who made them?

Sexual harassment has no place at the Capitol, period. Regardless of status as a legislator, lobbyist, journalist, staff member, or intern, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

All women and men who make allegations of sexual harassment deserve access to justice in a forum that implements due process and in which they are treated fairly and respectfully, without any fear of direct or indirect retaliation or of any effort to discredit them. They have the right to be heard, just as the accused senators have the right to defend themselves.

Sexual harassment is a horrendous and demeaning experience in which victims often are demonized or at least placed in defensive positions as their own behavior, presence at particular sites or events, and attire are questioned. That is why it takes courage to come forward with allegations of this nature.

While the complaints are anonymous, they are extremely troubling and deserve a serious investigation. Because the senators have denied them, we must listen to both sides and determine the truth.

Should the senators resign in response to these allegations? Should they face other penalties?

Anyone who abuses his or her position of authority to engage in sexual harassment should resign. If the allegations are proven true, there should be a full pursuit of consequences to provide justice, including resignation. Other consequences would be subject to the forum in which the allegations are heard, the actions taken by victims, and the remedies sought.

Has the Texas Legislature done enough to address sexual harassment in the past, and is it doing enough in response to these allegations now?

The Texas Legislature has not done enough to address sexual harassment in the past, but the Senate and the House are responding to recent allegations.

We need to focus on prevention, education, and punishment. Achieving that goal is possible with zero tolerance policies regarding sexual harassment; further education and training programs for everyone involved in the business of the legislature; and an independent, efficient, effective complaint system that makes victims feel safe to report sexual harassment and confident that their claims will be investigated appropriately in light of the seriousness of their allegations.

As a member of the Senate Administration Committee, I look forward to participating in Thursday’s hearing. It will be an opportunity to evaluate existing policies and to discuss new proposals to address this issue.

Anything else we should know?

Recent allegations serve to focus attention on this important issue. They afford us an opportunity to evaluate the culture in which we work and to ensure that the problem of sexual harassment is defined, addressed, and resolved.

Given the Senate’s constructive and supportive responses, more victims should be emboldened to come forth and to help us eliminate this degrading behavior. Talking about it is insufficient. We must take action and refuse to tolerate sexual harassment.

Equally important, we need more women in the Texas Senate and House of Representatives. This means recruiting more outstanding female candidates who can raise the funds and who have the organizational and communication skills that are essential to win. I agree with those who believe that because women comprise half of the population, we should comprise half of the legislature.

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Published at 8:43 pm CST
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