If state candidates in Massachusetts want an endorsement from a women’s rights PAC, they’ll have to say whether they’ve ever been accused of sexual harassment.
The #MeToo conversation about sexual harassment has roiled Capitol Hill and led to the resignations of lawmakers including Blake Farenthold, John Conyers, and Al Franken. The questionnaire, from NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, signals that some progressive groups want to hold politicians to a high standard — even if the 2016 presidential results suggest voters aren’t always deterred by accusations of sexual harassment.
“Have you ever been formally accused of sexual harassment?” the candidate questionnaire asks. “If so, please explain.”
Questionnaires are common for groups trying to find out more about candidates’ backgrounds and policy positions, but this is thought to be the first time an interest group has asked candidates about allegations of sexual harassment for them to secure an endorsement, according to the Boston Globe’s Stephanie Ebbert.
Since Franken’s resignation, a bigger debate has played out among Democrats about whether there’s a double standard in how seriously the two parties take sexual misconduct. Some Democrats argued that Franken had been railroaded and that the complaints should have been fully investigated. But the NARAL questionnaire suggests liberal groups want their party’s candidates to take harassment accusations against them seriously.
A “yes” on the questionnaire might not be disqualifying
NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts has said it plans to keep the information it receives confidential and emphasized that saying “yes” might not be disqualifying, although operatives have expressed their skepticism about the likelihood of keeping such details under wraps.
“We believe that as we work to shift the culture, some of our critical allies in this fight must include people who have recognized that they have behaved inappropriately in the past and have a clear track record of changing their behavior and creating safe work environments for all,” Rebecca Hart Holder, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, told the Globe.
Still, political operatives told the Globe that they’d advise candidates who had been accused in the past to skip the questionnaire entirely: The one scenario in which a candidate could safely divulge his case, they said, is the one that has already been reported.
More than half of men and over 60 percent of women have said that sexual harassment is an extremely or very important issue as they weigh their vote for Congress this year, according to a poll from CNN. When broken out by party affiliation, that number is even higher for Democrats — with 80 percent indicating that sexual harassment is an extremely or very important issue as they head to the ballot box, compared with 38 percent of Republicans.