The Democratic challenger seeking to unseat Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, has called on the incumbent to resign from the state legislature following the conclusion of Central Washington University’s investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Manweller.
CWU fired Manweller Tuesday from his position as a full professor, concluding its months-long investigation into the lawmaker. In a statement provided to media, Democratic challenger Sylvia Hammond said Manweller should not represent the 13th legislative District.
“Manweller has shown a pattern of troubling behavior. No amount of spin on Manweller’s part can dismiss the facts,” Hammond said in a press release Tuesday. “As a mother and grandmother, a former educator, and a person of faith, I believe that Manweller needs to be held accountable for his refusal or inability to change his treatment of young women.”
Hammond said in an interview that she has faith that the university conducted a thorough investigation, and criticized Manweller’s reaction to allegations as disparaging the courage of women who came forward.
For Steve Verhey, chair of the Kittitas County Democrats, Manweller’s firing came 10 years too late.
Verhey said the university’s choice to fire Manweller shows the university improperly handled investigations in the past.
“It’s very hard and unusual for a university to fire a full professor, and the reason it happened this time is that Matt Manweller never should have gotten tenure in the first place,” Verhey said.
The investigation that was done in 2012, which Verhey said had revealed Manweller was trading sexual favors for grades, investigated allegations stemming from 2006. If the investigations in 2012 had been handled properly, Verhey said, Manweller would never have received tenure and would have been fired at the time.
The 2012 investigation centered on a student who graduated from CWU with a political science degree in 2007. Records from the investigation show that the student alleged that Manweller made sexual advances when she came to Manweller’s office to discuss a paper she was writing for a class.
In a written declaration included in the investigation’s report, the student said Manweller closed his office door and pulled her closer to him.
“Look, let’s be honest you don’t want to write the paper and I don’t want to read it, we can discuss it orally,” the student wrote in quoting what Manweller said next.
Though the investigator concluded at the time that there was evidence to suggest Manweller had broken university policy on sexual harassment, the university did not determine the allegations were substantiated. The university concluded similarly after another investigation in 2013, when Manweller faced claims that he prepositioned two CWU students at a bar.
University officials did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Republican county chairs, meanwhile, strongly disagree with their Democratic counterparts.
“We have not made a decision at all in that situation, as far as what [Democrats] are calling for,” said Danny Stone, chairman for the Grant County Republicans, in response to calls for Manweller to resign from the legislature.
Stone said that the county party will be looking not only at the university’s final report on its investigation, expected to be released Aug. 27, but will also be looking at Manweller’s defense both publicly and in any coming lawsuit.
The county party has not decided whether they will need to wait through the entire court process to make a decision on Manweller, Stone continued, but that there is a general feeling in the party that: “It’s a great time to pressure a good legislator out of Olympia.”
“We tend to think that these things are politically motivated,” Stone said.
Marlene Pfeifer, chair of the Kittitas County Republicans, said it would be ridiculous for Manweller to resign.
“These are, in my opinion, totally unfounded charges,” Pfeifer said. “If we don’t see something different, which I don’t think we will, there is nothing worthy of him being fired from Central. In my opinion it was a totally railroaded, concerted effort to get rid of him.”
Pfeifer said that in the 16 years she’s known Manweller, neither her nor her daughter who took a class with Manweller have seen the lawmaker exhibit behaviors similar to the allegations.
Manweller has said that he will be filing suit against CWU and lead investigator Trish Murphy as a result of this investigation. Manweller has also repeatedly said that he will not resign and intends to continue to run for office, and pointed Tuesday toward the 27 point lead he had gained over Hammond in the Aug. 7 primary.
However, according to officials at the Washington Office of Secretary of State, which oversees elections, Manweller has already earned a spot in the general election and thus could not withdraw his name from the ballot even if he wished. The only thing a candidate could do if they did not wish to occupy a position they are elected to would be to immediately resign after being sworn in.
If Manweller were to resign mid-term, officials in the state Republican Party would select three candidates to fill the seat, according to election officials. The candidates would then need to be vetted by county commissions within the district until one is selected.