(TEXAS TRIBUNE) An influential political group that works to get female Democrats elected in Texas has called on state Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, both Democrats, to resign following reports of sexual misconduct.
Annie's List issued a statement Thursday after The Daily Beast reported multiple allegations of assault and harassment by the two senators.
"As we know all too well, men like Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti have been asserting themselves upon others without their permission for millenniums," said Patsy Woods Martin, executive director of the Austin-based organization. "What is new is that now we’re calling it out, taking these instances out of the shadows of shame and doubt that perpetrators, and their enablers, have foisted upon women."
The Daily Beast cited stories from unnamed women working at the Capitol who said they were forcibly kissed and otherwise harassed by the men. Miles didn't respond to Wednesday's story, but a spokeswoman said in a previous article by the publication that a published account of assault didn't happen. Uresti told the news site the allegations against him were "unfounded" and "erroneous."
Uresti issued an additional statement Thursday saying he respected the work of Annie’s List, but took issue with their director’s request for his resignation based solely on an unsourced article.
“While the story ends that the people being interviewed for this story 'asked not to be named,' such un-sourced accusations, without specific information as to time, place or alleged accuser, prevents me from being able to defend myself from completely unfounded innuendo,” he said.
Uresti pointed to one anecdote in the story in which an unnamed staffer said he saw Uresti with a young woman who he thought was a legislative staffer sitting on his lap at a "first day of session party" in 2013. Uresti said the woman was his wife, and sent both the Daily Beast and Tribune a screenshot of a photograph posted on Facebook from that night sitting next to his wife.
In a statement released Thursday night, Miles said he will continue to fight for the people “until they decide otherwise.”
“I have made powerful enemies who will go to any length to destroy and disrupt my service,” he said. “I will not continue to address anonymous accusations that attack my personal and professional character as an effective lawmaker.”
Both lawmakers said in their statements that they plan to join any efforts in the Senate to develop policies and practices to prevent sexual misconduct.
The call for the Texas senators’ resignations came on the same day two members of Congress — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Arizona Rep. Trent Frank — announced they would step down over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Texas leaders called for a review of sexual harassment policies at the state Legislature following a Texas Tribune story detailing how current procedures offered little protection for victims and describing a wide range of harassment at the Capitol. The Texas House approved changes to its policy last week. The Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to lead a review of the chamber's policy, has yet to hold any public hearings on the matter.
“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said in a statement responding to the calls for resignation Thursday, adding that he had asked Kolkhorst to “determine if there are additional steps we should take.”
“I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior,” Patrick said.
Earlier today, state Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the behavior alleged in the Daily Beast article is “unacceptable” in any situation, but especially so for an elected official.
“Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed,” he said in a statement before Annie’s List announced their call for resignation.
State Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement that she finds the recent stories in the media “very alarming.”
“It's a sad state of affairs when people feel their only option is talking to the press,” she said.
Rodríguez and Garcia both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers. Garcia said she is also calling for a hotline to report abuse.
“As this discussion continues at both the national and state levels, I applaud those who have come forward and encourage more women to continue shedding light on the culture of many of our industries and institutions, including the legislature, so we can create a culture shift where these incidents can be fully investigated, and hopefully, prevented,” Rodríguez said.
Both Uresti and Miles served in the Texas House before being elected to the Senate. Miles was first elected in 2006, Uresti in 1997. Uresti moved over to the Senate in 2006, and Miles became a state senator in 2015.
Both lawmakers have had brushes with the law.
Ten years ago, Miles was indicted on felony charges of deadly conduct after being accused of crashing a holiday party and brandishing a gun. He was found not guilty by a jury two years later, and he claimed it was a scheme cooked up by his political opponent at the time.
In 2015, he threatened to "beat up" a plainclothes Texas Department of Public Safety trooper while the lawman was guarding Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to a DPS report. Miles said at the time that the trooper didn’t identify himself as a law enforcement officer until after he grabbed his arm.
Uresti is currently indicted on 11 federal charges over his involvement in an alleged investment Ponzi scheme. He is accused of misleading a former client who invested in a company in which he has a financial stake. He also faces a separate indictment alleging bribery surrounding a government contract. His trial is set to begin Jan. 4.
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston whose district overlaps with Miles’ Senate district, said Thursday night that she’s hopeful more women will feel encouraged to speak out and doesn’t “see a reason why the women would lie” in their allegations against the senators. But everyone has a right to due process, she said.
Thompson added people in her community have questioned why all of these politicians are being asked to step down except for President Donald Trump, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct.
“Nobody’s asking him to step down as President, but you’re asking everybody else to step down,” she said.
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