At least one Texas Democrat hasn’t gotten the #MeToo message. Last week, State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) was convicted of eleven felony counts in a federal fraud trial, he is still facing another upcoming bribery trial in May, and more women keep coming forward to accuse him of sexual harassment, groping, and just being a nasty creep.
Olivia Messer at The Daily Beast has the story, and her headline is a perfect summation: “Women Say Texas Senator’s a Creep. Court Says He’s a Fraud. But He Won’t Leave Office.”
Uresti first faced sexual harassment allegations late last year, when a number of women who work around the Texas Capitol — including legislative staffers and interns, journalists, and lobbyists — worked together to create a “Burn Book of Bad Men” listing men who were sexual predators. The allegations in the Burn Book were anonymous, and ranged from sexist and demeaning comments to sexual assaults and use of date rape drugs. As I wrote last December:
Not only do these women have no faith that the Texas Legislature would take any punitive action against their harassers, some of what they described reaches the level of criminal conduct. How much of this reluctance to report is a lack of faith that the criminal justice system would adequately punish these predators, and how much is due to the fear of professional consequences, for being labeled “difficult,” cannot be determined.
The bottom line is that despite social media hashtags and TIME Magazine covers celebrating women coming forward, here we have a group of intelligent professional women who have given up all hope that the system will protect them, and the best they believe they can do right now is warn each other “it’s not safe to be alone with the men on this list.”
What a depressing thought.
Now that Uresti has been convicted, additional women have come forward to tell their stories to Messer, including one who spoke on the record, Jenn Cervella, the former data director for the Texas Democratic Party. According to Cervella, she met Uresti when she was working at a political event in 2015.
“We were being introduced and when we shook hands, he spun me around and said something like, ‘Damn, girl—you’re trouble,’” Cervella told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
“He was ogling my body. He spun me around so he could see what I looked like from behind. He wanted a 360-view,” she said. “He made me feel like I was frozen and had no ability to say anything.”
Cervella said Uresti’s staff later apologized to her on the lawmaker’s behalf.
“I think his refusal to step down is a testament to his lack of respect for the institution of the Texas Legislature and the women who work to keep it running,” said Cervella. “This can’t stand. I don’t care what the right does with their reps. I want my party to walk the walk.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) kicked Uresti out of all his committee assignments after the conviction, and the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus called for him to resign. Even Congressman Joaquin Castro (D), a longtime family friend of Uresti and previous staunch defender, has said it is time for him to go.
Uresti defiantly refuses to budge, insisting that he will appeal the conviction, and claims all the women accusing him are liars. He may find that to be an increasingly difficult position to defend, now that more women are coming forward and even on the record.
The Texas Senate can force Uresti out with a two-thirds vote, but so far the political will to do so seems missing, even though the chamber is controlled by Republicans. It’s hard to tell if the reluctance of Uresti’s fellow state senators to expel him is based on an instinct to protect a colleague, or because certain legislators may fear tales about their own misdeeds coming to light. Regardless, it appears that Uresti is hunkered down for the interim, until he exhausts his appeals or decides to change his mind.
“It’s almost as though the #metoo movement is powerless in Texas,” one of Uresti’s accusers told Messer.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.