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November 5, 2007

Republican in trouble for "inappropriate" conduct

Posted by David Postman at 5:26 PM

A Republican state legislator will be removed from his committee assignments and be prohibited from spending travel money or collecting per diem after "inappropriate" conduct following a recent legislative meeting.

Rep. Jim Dunn, R-Vancouver, was sent a letter this afternoon from Republican Leader Richard DeBolt. It says, in part:

"As we have discussed, your recent conduct in the presence of House members and staff following a meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education was inappropriate."

There are no details in the letter about the conduct in question. I have been trying to reach Dunn since this morning.

The letter also says that the House Clerk, after consulting with DeBolt, will not reimburse any travel or per diem expenses except for the Legislature's pre-session meetings in Olympia and during the 2008 session itself.

DeBolt has also asked House Speaker Frank Chopp to remove Dunn from his Appropriations Committee seat, as well as every other standing or select committee he serves on.

Dunn represents Clark County and the 17th District. It's a swing district. His House seatmate is a Democrat, Deb Wallace.

Word of Dunn's reprimand and punishment comes the week after Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center, also in Clark County, resigned from the House after his Spokane sex scandal erupted.

MORE: I just spoke with Dunn. He says a small incident is being blown out of proportion. But another lawmaker who witnessed the incident says Republican leadership did the right thing in coming down hard on Dunn for "highly inappropriate" comments to a female staffer.

Dunn said that the incident occurred about three weeks ago in Tri-Cities. After the subcommittee meeting, a group of legislators and staffers were having drinks. He says he did make an inappropriate comment to "a young lady." He was buying her a drink and said something like, in his words, "I'm buying you this so I can take you home, something like that."

"I made it and I knew it as a bad remark," he said. There were 20 to 30 other people around, he said. "If I meant it, I wouldn't have said it in a crowd."

Dunn said he met with DeBolt and other Republican leaders Friday. DeBolt, he said, asked him to resign. He said someone in the meeting threatened that if he didn't resign his wife would find out about his behavior. Dunn says he had already told his wife what happened and she fully supports him staying in and fighting.

"I told him, 'Richard, you know I'm not going to resign.' It was an inadvertent bad remark. I apologized for it to the young lady. It was uncalled for."

But Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, was at the table that night and says Dunn is telling a sanitized version of events. She said Dunn joined a table of legislators and staffers and insisted on buying everyone a drink.

When the female staffer asked why he was buying her a drink, Dunn made his comment. Santos would not repeat it for me, but said it was "far more explicit" than Dunn's version and "highly inappropriate."

"I was sitting with a Republican member and I know that Republican member was absolutely mortified."

She said that Republican leadership did the right thing in reprimanding him and that DeBolt sent a strong message to other legislators about inappropriate behavior.

Dunn, who says he's from the "extreme right-wing faction of the party," said he opposed DeBolt becoming Republican leader, backing Rep. Bruce Chandler, instead, and he may now be a victim of that. Dunn also said there was an earlier incident involving a claim of sexual harassment against him, but says he was cleared in that case.

That case, according to Dunn, began when he forwarded an e-mail from one legislator friend to another. The e-mail included a naked picture of the first legislator's new wife. He says all his e-mails were automatically copied to his legislative assistant, a woman, who received the e-mail with the naked photo and complained to House leaders that she felt it was aimed at her.

Dunn said there was an inquiry, but that nothing came of the charge.

He says he will not be pushed out of the Legislature. He is flabbergasted that it is fellow Republicans punishing him and not the opposition Democrats.

"I don't understand why they're putting this out. Let Frank (Chopp) put it out."

Dunn thinks his fellow Southwest Washington Republican, Richard Curtis, should not have quit the Legislature last week.

"They should not have pushed Curtis out. ... I would advise him to drop out because it's not my kind of lifestyle. But we have people like that in the Legislature who are doing a good job for their constituents and as far as I knew Richard was doing a good job for his constituents. ... He was forced out by the party without any kind of conversation with the constituents who lived in the 18th District."

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