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Senate Panel Dismisses Sexual Misconduct Complaint Against Boulton

nate boulton
John Pemble / IPR file
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Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines

The Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously Thursday to dismiss a sexual misconduct complaint against Democratic Sen. Nate Boulton because the alleged conduct happened before he was in elected office.

Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, was the only lawmaker to speak during the four-minute meeting. Reading from a written statement, he said the committee could only decide Thursday if the complaint was within its jurisdiction, not determine if the allegations are true.

“The Senate ethics rules are for the conduct of senators, lobbyists and clients of lobbyists,” Behn said. “The rules are not in place to govern the conduct of the general public.”

Because of that, lawmakers voted 6-0 without discussion to dismiss the complaint. But Behn added, “No one is above the law,” and noted the complainant may be able to pursue legal action outside of the Senate.

Sharon Wegner filed the complaint in November alleging Boulton followed her around two bars in 2015 and touched her repeatedly without her consent. Boulton was running for office at the time.

After the meeting, she said the committee did the correct thing according to its procedures.

“Obviously I believe that there should be some effect on Sen. Boulton,” Wegner said.

She said she would leave that determination to Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen, who renewed her call for Boulton to resign after Thursday’s meeting.

“When women have the courage to come forward to blow the whistle about being harassed, we need to show them there is a pathway to justice,” Petersen said.

Boulton said he will stay in the Senate. In a statement, he thanked the committee members for their “professional work.”

“It’s now time to focus on the critical work ahead in the Iowa Senate when the legislative session begins in January,” Boulton said. He made no mention of the allegations against him. Boulton has stated before that he has no memory of the events described by Wegner, but that he used to struggle with alcohol.

Petersen previously said she would defer assigning Boulton to legislative committees until after the ethics committee investigates. With the committee’s dismissal of the complaint, a spokesman for Petersen said she will make a decision about committee assignments before the legislative session starts Jan. 14.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the allegations are serious and will impede Boulton’s work in the Senate.

“For Nate’s own good and for the good of his family and constituents, I hope he will reconsider his decision to try to ride this out for the next two years in the Iowa Senate,” Bolkcom said.

Wegner’s allegations were originally reported by the Des Moines Register in May, when two other women also accused Boulton of sexual misconduct. Those allegations led him to drop out of the Democratic primary for governor.

Wegner said she wants the Senate ethics rules to apply to conduct outside of the statehouse.

“I believe firmly that someone who’s elected to public office is always in the public eye and that they should be held accountable for actions they take when they’re not here at work,” Wegner said.

It’s not clear if the Senate rules exclude misconduct by current senators outside of the statehouse. Wegner did not comment on whether the rules should apply to someone before they are a senator.

Wegner said she is not planning to pursue a lawsuit at this time.