#MeToo hits the midterms: New PAC targets accused politicians

 

In the run-up to today’s midterm elections, 1,800 volunteers from a new political action committee called Enough is Enough have been reaching out to voters, aiming to make sexual assault an issue on which they will cast their ballots. They’ve been making calls, sending postcards and canvassing. Many say they’ve experienced sexual assault personally and are committed to blocking candidates who don’t stand with survivors.

“We are putting rape culture on a ballot…and we are going to vote it down,” said Michele Landis Dauber, Stanford law professor and founder of the PAC.

The PAC is focused on six candidates in five states, who have either been accused of sexual misconduct, have voted against measures to aid victims, or have otherwise failed to stand with survivors on the subject of sexual assault.

Rep. Anna Eshoo listens to a question. (Fabienne Meijer/Peninsula Press)

“It’s a message: ‘we’re coming after you,’” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, when asked about Enough is Enough. “Single issue voting targets those who haven’t lifted a finger.”

The PAC is hoping to capitalize on the momentum generated by the #MeToo movement. Last January, hundreds of thousands protested for feminist causes in the Women’s March, the largest single-day protest in American history. A month ago, the nation was divided over the Kavanaugh hearings, in which accusations of sexual assault upended the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Though the PAC was established just a month ago, Enough is Enough has raised more than $250,000, according to Dauber. The PAC was born from Dauber’s Recall Aaron Persky campaign, which raised over $1 million and succeeded in recalling the judge who handed down Brock Turner’s six-month sentence for sexual assault. The recall ballot initiative won by a landslide of 24 points last June.

Now, recall volunteers, as well as collaborators from the Women’s March Sister Network and other feminist organizations, are trying to hold legislators accountable for their standing on sexual misconduct, by educating voters prior to the November 6 midterm elections.

California Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) commented in an interview that the Congress’ system for dealing with sexual misconduct was in need of reform.

“Inside the Congress, we have to scrap, if you want to call it a system, what was in place. And what was in place, was really a protection system for the violator,” she said. “We need a real ethics overhaul of the Congress.”

“We should try to get some democracy around this question,” said Dauber.

Michele Dauber started Enough is Enough PAC, “to to bring rape culture from social media to the ballot box.” (Isabella Jibilian/Peninsula Press)

The Enough is Enough board researched dozens of candidates before narrowing down their list of “targets” to five: Republican Rep. Jason Lewis of Minnesota; Republican U.S. House candidate Steven Von Loor of North Carolina; Republican Rep. David Byrd of Tennessee; Republican Rep. Matt Rinaldi of Texas; Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis of California; and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; according to the PAC’s website. Activists from the PAC have also campaigned against Republican Rep. Matt Manweller of Washington, in a separate “Stop Manweller” effort.

The group focuses mostly on state races, which are less expensive to flip, and aims to stop candidates early on in their careers, “before they grow up to be a senator,” said Dauber.

When analyzing electoral data from the recall campaign, activists found that younger females and people of color voted independently of their political party. Now, Enough is Enough aims to activate these voter segments of the population through outreach.

“Research shows that voters, especially women and younger voters, have very serious doubts about candidates with a history of sexual harassment or violence against women. Yet until now, there really hasn’t been any group that was dedicated to pushing this forward as a voting strategy,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who is working with the group.

Enough is Enough volunteers in Tennessee are busy campaigning against Rep. David Byrd, a state legislator who has been accused of sexually abusing three of his former high school basketball players, who were 15- to 16-years old at the time of the alleged assault. One of the women confronted Byrd over the phone, and released a tape of him admitting and apologizing for his actions. Elected officials in Tennessee have called for Byrd to resign.

In this race, as well as Matt Manweller’s Washington state Representative election, Enough is Enough activists say they have seen marked shifts in public opinion as voters become aware of accusations. However, in states like Tennessee with higher rates of Republican affiliation, this shift may not affect election outcomes.

Survivors turned activists

Many of the PAC’s volunteers are survivors of sexual assault, and credit their activism as a way to reclaim agency and connect with others with similar experiences.

“I have told Michele [Dauber] that she inspired and led me through the process from victim to survivor.” said LezLi Logan, a board member for Enough is Enough. (Isabella Jibilian/Peninsula Press)

LezLi Logan first met Dauber at an event with other activists from a Bay Area feminist group. Dauber was talking about the Persky Recall campaign, and Logan felt a connection to the cause. Logan said she was sexually assaulted multiple times as a child, the most violent when she was only nine years old.

“As a victim, I felt powerless… ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ‘Why did this happen to me?’ Those lingering questions never go away,” said Logan in an interview at a café in Los Gatos.

Now, Logan calls herself a survivor, and said that as an activist, “I could use that pain, and turn it into motivation.”

A mother of two daughters in their twenties, she serves on the Board of Directors for the campaign. She designs postcards, writes calling scripts and helps volunteers behind-the-scenes.

Fellow board member Sita Stukes organized Women’s March San Jose in 2017 and also worked on the Persky Recall movement. She is pregnant and her due date is just weeks after the election. Before she knew the gender of her child, she was concerned about the possibility of having a daughter.

“I really didn’t want to have a girl because of my past experiences being assaulted,” said Stukes, resting her hands on her belly.

When the recall movement in succeeded in June, Stukes, four months pregnant at the time, felt hope.

“That was genuinely a moment of relief. Maybe the world that my daughter would come into would be different than the one I grew up in,” said Stukes.

“I like to think of it as sort of shoving a chisel in a crack. And we just have to keep wiggling at it until [the] door gets blown open.” said Sita Stukes, a board member for Enough is Enough. (Isabella Jibilian/Peninsula Press)

“I know that my rapist will never face accountability for what he did… I will never get justice for myself…said Stukes. “[But] I can take my experience and turn it into something positive.”

Stukes later found out that a baby boy is on the way. She plans on bringing him to marches, and a friend gave her a onesie with “Smash the Patriarchy” emblazoned on the front.

“He’ll be ready to go to all the rabble-rousing that I do,” she said with a laugh.

Accusations abound in California Assembly Race

One of the group’s targets, Assemblyman Devon Mathis, is running for re-election in California’s 26th district. Enough is Enough concluded after a month of research that “credible accusations” make Mathis unfit for office. The PAC cited allegations that include domestic abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“[Dauber] can throw as much money as she wants at me. This entire group can keep trying to smear my good name.” said Mathis. “But at the end of the day, there’s half a million people I represent and the choice is theirs.”

Last October, Mathis was accused of sexual assaulting one of his staffers by Joseph Turner, a conservative blogger who has targeted California Republican “cap and traitors” for voting in favor of California cap-and-trade policies. The Sacramento Police Department investigated the issue, and was “unable to substantiate that a crime occurred.”

Then, two of Mathis’ ex-staffers sued Mathis. In court, Mathis’ ex-chief of staff, Sean Doherty, claimed that he witnessed Mathis sexually assaulting another staffer. Doherty himself has also been the subject of sexual harassment complaints. Mathis’ former district Director, Janie Sustaita, also sued Mathis for allegedly harassing and bullying her.

Following accusations, the California Assembly Rules Committee launched an eight-month long investigation and disciplined Mathis for making “frequent” coarse remarks, including sexual comments about fellow lawmakers.

In interviews following the case, Mathis has emphasized that investigations and court cases have ruled all of these allegations false, save for “locker room talk.” He also said that these accusations were motivated by disgruntled ex-staffers trying to destroy his political career. In an interview, Mathis said that his ex-chief of staff, Sean Doherty, was corrupt, and upon being fired, “swore vengeance against me. And has made my life hell because of it.”

“These people [Enough is Enough] are trying to make me out to be this horrendous villain and they don’t even have their facts straight,” said Mathis in an interview.

Yet Stukes said that Enough is Enough’s research process is rigorous. For one, there are police reports corroborating Mathis’ ex-wife’s accusation of domestic violence, said Stukes.

“We aren’t calling for them to be jailed. We aren’t calling for them to be blacklisted from every public space. We’re just saying that you… don’t deserve to represent people who are similar to your victims.” said Stukes.

Today, constituents in California’s 26th state assembly district, and across the nation, will decide.

UPDATE: Nov. 12, 3:00pm

Of Enough is Enough’s featured races, election outcomes were mixed.   Assemblyman Devon Mathis was re-elected in California Assembly District 26 with a sweeping majority of 61 percent.  Matt Manweller, of the group’s separate “Stop Manweller” campaign, won despite promises to resign if re-elected.  Once he resigns, the seat will go to another Republican candidate.

Here are the rest of the midterm election results:

To hear more from Assemblyman Devon Mathis and Enough is Enough activists in their own words, listen here.