“The Senate remains committed to creating and fostering a safe, inclusive workplace for everyone,” Majority Leader Andy Billig said in a statement.
OLYMPIA — A state senator under investigation following allegations of improper conduct has resigned days ahead of the start of the legislative session.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office late Friday saying he was resigning “with a heavy heart.” He wrote that his resignation was effective immediately. The 105-day legislative session begins Monday.
Ranker has been under investigation since the fall. Tara Parker, an investigator with Ogden Murphy Wallace law firm in Seattle, was hired by the chamber in October to investigate claims made by Ann Larson, who served as Ranker’s legislative assistant for a year. Larson says she dealt with sexual harassment and hostile workplace issues while working for him during the 2010 legislative session.
Larson has said she had a brief consensual relationship with Ranker before he was elected to the Legislature, but that after he recruited her to the Senate and she rebuffed advances that included inappropriate touching, he became increasingly hostile. She ultimately decided to leave the job.
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Larson, now director of government relations at the state’s Department of Enterprise Services, has said she also was subjected to hostile encounters involving Ranker once she left to work as a legislative liaison for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. She told The Seattle Times that Ranker continued to make advances, threatened to cut the department’s budget, looked up her salary and told her she was overpaid, examined which state authorizations allowed her job in the first place and threatened to cut programs important to her.
In 2012, Ranker served as chair of the Senate’s Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee, which would oversee much of her agency’s work. She said Ranker threatened to publicly embarrass her and made it difficult to do her job.
She provided The Times with copies of a text exchange in which Ranker seemed upset that she hadn’t testified in his committee, and then threatened to work to eliminate the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which had appointed Larson’s boss.
In an email to his constituents and others Saturday, Ranker wrote that he has fully cooperated with the investigation.
“I am deeply sorry for any stress I caused her and I sincerely apologize,” he wrote. “I wish her peace.”
In a text message to The Associated Press on Saturday, Larson wrote that she’s glad she can move on. “I hope that by my actions, more people feel safe to report any kind of inappropriate behavior without fear of retaliation,” she wrote.
Ranker’s decision comes days after Senate Democrats announced they were reconfiguring committees based on his decision to step down from his chairmanship of the newly proposed Environment and Tourism Committee, and to leave his leadership position as a vice chair for environment and natural resources on the Ways and Means Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig issued a statement Saturday announcing Ranker’s decision, saying the process to replace him will begin “as soon as possible,” and that because the investigation into Ranker continues, he won’t be able to comment further until he reads the completed report. The investigation into Ranker is the first test of the chamber’s new workplace policies adopted in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
In July, a Senate committee approved revised workplace policies based on recommendations by a bipartisan task force. Under the new policy, once an investigation and any subsequent appeal is completed, a report will be released publicly if there is a finding of a violation of prohibited conduct.
“The Senate remains committed to creating and fostering a safe, inclusive workplace for everyone,” Billig wrote.
Larson was so troubled about Ranker’s conduct, she told The Seattle Times, that she said she complained to state Senate officials in 2010 and to her agency leadership a couple of years later. Only recently, after notifying the governor’s office that she was exploring going public, did the state Senate hire an investigator to examine Ranker’s conduct.
Lawmakers in November approved an investigation of Republican Sen. Joe Fain after a Seattle woman said he had raped her in a Washington, D.C., hotel room in 2007. But after Fain lost a close re-election bid, Republican opposition to the investigation grew, and lawmakers dropped the plan for hiring an outside investigator.
Material from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.
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