Fabiola Santiago: Democrats ditch accused harassers while GOP does nothing

By Fabiola Santiago - Contributing Columnist

The election of Donald Trump, the celebrity businessman with a sordid record of sexual misbehavior and the Republicans’ inability to respond with meaningful action to credible sex-abuse claims have made it increasingly clear that the GOP is no longer operating on any sort of moral high ground.

Those boisterous 2016 chants about law and order — Illegals! Criminals! Rapists! Lock her up! — have proved to be nothing but projection in light of the political scandals and allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men during the last two months.

You can only spin deceitful talking points for so long before truth slams right back at you.

And this is the bottom line on sexual assault by men in public office in Washington and across the nation: While Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers, both Democrats, resigned in the wake of mounting harassment and assault allegations, Republican child predator Roy Moore stays in the Alabama race, Groper-in-Chief Trump remains in the White House, and Jack Latvala is sticking around the Florida Senate and the 2018 governor’s race.

All of these Republican men have multiple accusers with damning stories of forced kissing, groping, and in Trump’s case, even rape.

Democrats called for both Conyers’ and Franken’s resignations. Yet, there’s no momentum among the Republican leadership anywhere to address what’s so very wrong and seedy in their own house. Not in Washington or Alabama or Florida.

On sex scandals, only Democrats are doing the right thing: putting their constituents — and the cause of women’s right to dignity — first by resigning, despite the great cost to a defeated party that made important gains in the last elections.

The striking difference in the political reaction was most poignant as Franken, a champion of women’s rights, announced Thursday on the Senate floor that he would step down in the coming weeks. No longer able to deal with an ethics committee investigation into allegations that he forcefully kissed and groped women before and after he was in office, Franken acknowledged that he couldn’t “effectively serve” the people of Minnesota.

But Franken didn’t go quietly, noting that he was leaving “while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assaults sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”

Isn’t that the ugly truth, Republicans?

In Florida, bastion of Trump-supporting GOP self-righteousness, the same stubbornness and disrespect for women standing up for themselves is playing out as Latvala hangs on to his seat and political ambitions.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, chief legislative aide for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, has accused Latvala of sexually harassing her over four years, groping her in a Senate elevator and rubbing her leg in a bar at a private meet-up.

Rogers filed a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee last month and two separate investigations were launched. Latvala denies wrongdoing, saying it’s all politically motivated.

“Women should not be sexually harassed in the workplace,” Latvala said. “But guys in important positions also shouldn’t be sitting ducks for anonymous accusations or people coming forward with an ax to grind.”

Rogers has way more to lose by coming out about what she endured while doing her job as liaison between Republicans than does Latvala, a second-tier gubernatorial candidate, and in my book, not a very distinguished legislator. (He and the likes of him upstate would have less power if Miami Republicans weren’t so eagerly in tune with his ultra-conservative agenda).

Hoping to cast more doubt on Rogers than already comes with any accusation, Latvala released more than 200 text messages between them. It’s a portrayal of political shenanigans, all right, but all they show is friendliness, political conspiracy and abuse of emojis. Their cordial relationship doesn’t give him any right to molest her. And her friendly behavior, which might seem over-the-top at times, can be typical of abuse victims trying to maintain a facade, especially when a job is involved.

Latvala should resign — and Florida Republicans (other than Latvala foes) should, for a change, stand with the women whose reproductive rights they have so eagerly curtailed in the Legislature.

But, then again, the official Republican Party platform, reviewed in the reality of this presidency, this Congress, and their surrogates across the land, is a big, fake document. Republicans ought to take a look at what they promised their members in writing and take stock. The women speaking out aren’t going away. How elected officials respond is being watched very closely, and 2018 is just around the corner.

The lack of a strong, appropriate reaction to sexual harassment by Republicans stands in great contrast to today’s Democrats.

It cements the party’s newfound reputation as enablers of sexual assault, which isn’t about sex but about a sick need to exert power over another human being.

And the national poster boy for abuse holds the highest office in the land.

By Fabiola Santiago

Contributing Columnist

Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may email her at [email protected]

Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may email her at [email protected]