In the face of GOP opposition, Washington Senate Democrats suspended the planned outside investigation into the allegation of rape against state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn.
OLYMPIA — After increasing GOP opposition, Washington Senate Democrats on Tuesday suspended the planned outside investigation into the allegation of rape against state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn.
Tuesday’s decision – which comes as the Legislature tries to strengthen its policies against workplace harassment and assault – capped more than two months of uncertainty and increasing partisanship over how or whether the Senate would handle the latest allegation against a state lawmaker.
Democratic and Republican legislators and other officials have struggled to respond to the allegation made in late September by Candace Faber, a former foreign-service officer and Seattle resident who stepped forward to say that Fain raped her in a Washington, D.C., hotel room in 2007.
The alleged incident happened both outside the state and before Fain — who has denied the allegation — was elected to office. Faber has said she doesn’t intend to file a police report with law enforcement authorities in Washington, D.C., but said she’d welcome an investigation.
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Democrats and Republicans on a key Senate committee in November unanimously approved an investigation just days after the election, when Fain, who has been in the Legislature since 2010, led in his race for re-election. But by the end of that week, the results flipped, and he conceded to Democratic challenger, Mona Das.
The investigation at first looked like it would go forward anyway, with Democratic and Republican Senate leaders agreeing to the selection of an outside investigator to review the allegation and report back by Dec. 31 at the latest.
But as of this week, Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville had not approved any of the possible choices for an investigator, according to a letter by Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip. Schoesler did not respond to a request for comment.
Absent a bipartisan agreement on the selection of an investigator, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he would not move forward with the review.
“In light of Republican leadership’s reversal of their support in facilitating a fair, unbiased investigation, the only option available is for the Secretary of the Senate to suspend the process of hiring an investigator,” Billig said Tuesday in a statement.
Senate Republican Caucus Chair Randi Becker of Eatonville on Tuesday cheered that decision. When lawmakers approved the investigation, it appeared like Fain might return to the chamber, she said. But with his loss, Becker questioned what good a Senate investigation might do.
“Senate Republicans still think there ought to be an investigation, but at this point, the Senate is the wrong place for it,” said Becker, who on Monday wrote a letter on behalf of Senate Republicans protesting the investigation.
GOP Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center took a harsher approach Monday, attacking the credibility of Faber and chastising news organizations for reporting on the allegation.
Faber, Fain’s accuser, said in a text message Tuesday that said Republican opposition to the investigation “should tell people everything they need to know about what that investigation would have found.”
“It also says a lot about who they are and what their values are when it comes to the safety of women,” Faber added.
The demise of the Fain investigation comes as lawmakers struggle over how to handle reports of sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
This summer, the Senate approved a new respectful workplace policy, which includes a human resources position tasked with receiving and investigating complaints. The position is expected to be filled by January, according to Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson.
An internal House work group has drafted recommendations for that chamber, which is expected to include a similar type of position.
Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, said the group has discussed the challenges of responding to allegations and tackling “the presumed reluctance among people in the legislative community to make reports out of concern for lack of action.”
Macri, who represents the district where Faber lives, called on the Senate last month to undertake the investigation. She said it still makes sense for the King County Council, where Fain worked at the time of the alleged incident, to conduct a review.
If the Legislature had had all of its revamped workplace policy system in place when the allegations against Fain emerged, “I think there wouldn’t have been so much reluctance or confusion about what to do,” said Macri. “And I think we would have seen a quicker response.”
Staff reporter Heidi Groover contributed to this report.