By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Leaders at the Washington state House have acknowledged that a state representative who resigned in the middle of the 2011 legislative session was forced out because of allegations of inappropriate behavior toward a female staffer at an off campus St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, in a statement sent to The Associated Press late Wednesday, said leadership determined former Democratic Rep. Jim Jacks’ conduct was “serious enough to warrant his resignation.” Leadership at the Capitol hadn’t divulged specifics about Jacks’ resignation until asked again by AP for the information amid the growing national conversation around sexual harassment and assault.
Jacks, who had first won his seat in the 49th legislative district in 2008 and was re-elected in 2010, is currently a project manager and facilitator at Oregon Solutions at Portland State University. He did not immediately respond to email or phone requests seeking comment.
His departure in March 2011 only came to light as a leadership statement accepting his resignation. There was no official announcement of his quitting, and he faxed his resignation letter from a hotel in Oregon. At the time Sullivan refused to provide more details, just saying Jacks “needed to take care of some things at home.” A month later, Jacks told The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver that he had a drinking problem and resigned because he was an alcoholic but denied allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Sullivan said the decision to not release the details at the time was to protect the staffer involved. He says the information is being released now so “everyone in the legislative arena – members, staff, and lobbyists — know that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.”
“Maybe I wasn’t as forthcoming as I should have been and I get it, but I did it for reasons at the time that I thought were important,” Sullivan said in a phone interview.
Sullivan said after the incident the chamber changed policies to create a chain of command on how to report harassment. He noted that another review has been ongoing this year, and that a private consultant is expected to release a report and recommendations in a few weeks.
The details of the 2011 resignation come the same week that four women said publicly that former Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams sexually harassed them.
Sullivan said he was “stunned” by those allegations.
“It’s just sad to see all these stories coming out right now, people who I know, who weren’t comfortable telling me,” he said by phone. “I want people to know that if they are harassed, it’s going to be dealt with.”
Last week, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib — who serves as the presiding officer of the Senate — said he would be reaching out to Senate administration to discuss ways to improve policies and procedures surrounding reporting of harassment in that chamber.