Supposedly the great lesson of the Harvey Weinstein story is that keeping silent about sexual harassment when “everybody knows it” is no longer acceptable.
Weinstein was allowed to get away with his behavior for years because he was a powerful man in his industry. His powerful friends, inside of Democratic Party politics and Hollywood, chose to ignore his conduct even though everyone knew about it. Now the expectation is that all of us must do whatever we can to stop behavior like Weinstein’s the moment we learn about it to save others from becoming victims.
Apparently that lesson hasn’t been learned by the Democratic candidates running for governor.
We’ve all known for some time that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, a Democratic candidate for governor, was in a position to stop Andy Harris, a teacher in the Middleton School District. Harris was caught looking at pornographic images on his school computer and even sharing them with other members of the faculty. The school district went to great lengths to fire Harris but was thwarted in court because supposedly other teachers with porn on their computers were treated less harshly.
The school district appealed to Evers for help, asking the superintendent of schools to use his authority to strip away Harris’ teaching license. Evers refused, saying he didn’t believe the level of conduct by Harris allowed him to do so because no children were harmed.
The state legislature quickly acted and clarified in the law that Evers did have the authority to take away teaching licenses for immoral conduct like that which occurred in the Harris case. Despite pleas from the parents and the school district, and even a letter from the governor, Evers refused to attempt to take away Harris’ teaching license.
Last week we learned from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Harris case was worse than originally thought. From the school district’s report on Harris’ conduct, Evers learned that Harris was allegedly making lewd remarks about the middle school students he taught. According to one of Harris’ colleagues, he commented on students’ breast sizes and even suggested one middle school student should become proficient at oral sex because “that’s all she’ll be good at later in life.”
Again Evers was urged by parents to do something about Harris and he did nothing. Evers and the Department of Public Instruction claim that they could not substantiate the charges.
The Republican Party, this time with state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, and state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, quickly condemned Evers after the news broke of Harris’ alleged sexual comments about the middle school students. Evers responded by saying Republicans were trying to “nitpick” his handling of the case three years later, showing how little he regrets his lack of action in the Harris matter.
Clearly Evers did not do all that could to rid the Middleton school district of Harris. When the legislature clarified the law for Evers, he still did not try to remove Harris from his teaching position. Evers put this teacher above the best interests of the students in the school.
Everybody now knows this, like in the Weinstein case, but not one of Evers’ Democratic opponents in the gubernatorial primary have criticized the schools superintendent for his inaction. We assume that Evers’ opponents want to win the Democratic nomination. We’re going to even assume that some of them care about children. But they’re remaining silent when one of their fellow Democrats, an opponent no less, did not do everything he could to protect children.
We’ll concede that it may be hard for state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire. After all, he joined with the rest of his fellow Democrats in the state Assembly to elect state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, as the minority leader.
It may even be hard for former state Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn to say something about Evers given his role in defending the Milwaukee Archdiocese in the sexual abuse scandals there.
But surely the other Democratic candidates for governor have something to say? Or, as in the Weinstein case, are they afraid of upsetting a powerful force within the Democratic Party, this time the teachers unions? Do Democrats really believe they’re obligated to speak up when sexual harassment and the creation of a hostile working environment is being ignored by a man with the authority to try to stop it? Or is it only their obligation to speak up when no powerful Democratic interest group might be offended?