In my final State of the State address I said I’m optimistic we as leaders can be role models and inspire the next generation. And if some of us fall short, our friends and neighbors, our fellow Montanans and Americans, will ask better of us.
Four years ago I fell short in my role preventing sexual harassment. I’m sorry, and I’m committed to doing better.
I was chair of the Democratic Governors Association when Kevin O’Brien, a longtime employee of mine who had left and joined the staff of DGA, sexually harassed a colleague at an after-hours event.
I was shocked: This was inconsistent with the person I’d known for seven years and had come to call a friend. I’d never seen him act inappropriately. I’d never heard stories or complaints.
We took quick action to let Kevin go, and at the time, I felt we took appropriate steps. Last week I learned he had again sexually harassed two women while working in the New York City Mayor’s Office.
I felt sick and heartbroken. I felt the realization I hadn’t done enough.
I’ve spent the last few days talking to family, friends and coworkers. Asking myself questions: Should I have called Mayor de Blasio? Should I have let more people know? Was I naïve to think this wouldn’t happen again?
The answer is yes. I was wrong and naive to think I did enough. I should have done more to ensure future employers would learn of his behavior. I also know these realizations come too late for the two women in New York City. For that, I’m deeply sorry.
Men who sexually harass and assault others are too often repeat offenders, and those of us who are made aware of credible allegations have a responsibility to make sure those men aren’t in a position to do so again.
We are in the middle of an important conversation involving shared stories, open dialogue and culture shift surrounding sexual assault and harassment in America.
We’re on the right path, but we can do more. I can do more. Creating safe and fair workplaces means we all have the responsibility to speak up and do what’s right. That includes me.