The Iowa State Senate Ethics Committee unanimously dismissed a sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Nate Boulton on Thursday. The meeting to consider the complaint filed against Boulton by Des Moines attorney Sharon Wegner lasted only four minutes.
The committee didn’t examine the merits of Wegner’s complaint, ruling instead that because the alleged incident occurred in 2015, and Boulton was not sworn in as member of the Senate until January 2017, it was outside the committee’s jurisdiction.
According to Wegner, she and Boulton were in the same East Village bar in November 2015, and he grabbed her buttocks. She moved away from him —
several times — but he continued to follow her around the bar.
“I don’t want to say it was constant, but it felt like every time he was near me his hand somehow found its way to my rear end,” Wegner told the Register.
Two other women also told the Register about earlier incidents in which Boulton groped them.
The Register’s report led to Boulton, then one of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor, to drop out of the race, and caused leading Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, to call on Boulton to resign from the Senate. He refused, and said he would serve out his full term.
Boulton originally had not disputed the account of events offered by Wegner and the other two women. Instead he said didn’t recall any of it, and suggested any inappropriate behavior on his part may have been caused binge drinking. He even offered vague, indirect apologies to all three women.
“All I can say is if someone felt that I did something inappropriate, I apologize for that,” Boulton told the Register in May.
After Wegner filed her complaint in November, Boulton changed his stance.
In a rebuttal he filed with the Ethics Committee, Boulton attempted to undermine Wegner’s credibility. While still claiming not to remember that evening at the bar, he asserted that Wegner’s account of events “do not ring true.” He also submitted a statement from a fellow lawyer alleging he knew Wegner had a romantic interest in Boulton, who was uninterested in her, and suggesting that a spurned Wegner had a motivation to injure Boulton. Wegner denied all of that.
(Because ethics complaints against senators must be filed within three years of an incident occurring, Wegner was the only one of the three women who could file a complaint against Boulton. The other two alleged incidents occurred between 2002 and 2005.)
Following the committee’s four-minute meeting, Wegner told reporters she understood why the senators felt they had to dismiss her complaint.
“I hope that moving forward folks realize that our ethics rules don’t hold our senators and elected officials accountable when they aren’t here on the capitol grounds,” Wegner said.
Senate Minority Leader Petersen issued a written statement after the committee meeting, praising Wegner for being willing to come forward and repeating her call for Boulton to step down. Boulton also issued a written statement, in which he repeated his intention to serve out his full term.
Boulton, who represents Des Moines in the Iowa Senate, will be up for reelection in 2020.