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Wolf: State Government Must Take Action Against Sexual Harassment

In the last several weeks, instances of sexual harassment and even assault have been revealed in Hollywood, in the media and in Congress.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf wrote an op-ed piece for PennLive this week saying state government must take action against sexual harassment. He spoke to 90.5 WESA's Kevin Gavin about why Harrisburg is not "immune" to the issue. 

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

KEVIN GAVIN: Was there a specific recent revelation or more than one regarding abusive behavior in the state government that spurred this op-ed?

GOV TOM WOLF:  No, it was what's happening in the nation all around the country. I just wanted to make sure everybody understood where I stand and where I have for long as I can remember.

GAVIN: But I believe in the op-ed you mentioned that Harrisburg state government is not immune. What did you mean by that comment?

WOLF:  The revelations that they had come out nationally; I think that some of the stuff is going on in Harrisburg, and I want to make clear my stance is that it is unacceptable in the executive branch; that's what I control. And it really ought to be unacceptable throughout the legislature.

GAVIN: Angela Columbus, the Harrisburg bureau reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, told 90.5 WESA about several examples of harassment that have happened to just her, including a male legislator greeting her with a hug and "a sloppy kiss on the cheek." She said she was speechless. Another lawmaker she was interviewing in a Capitol hallway began casually stroking her arm as he spoke to her; and also a one-time legislative leader needling her over the phone about her sex life. So it seems like government in Harrisburg is not immune to this kind of behavior.

WOLF: Well, those are the same stories that I've read now. None of those stories are about people in the executive branch. But the legislators don't work for me. People in the administration in the executive branch do work for me. I've made it clear that that kind of behavior is unacceptable.

GAVIN: You've made it clear. Are appropriate actions in case that happens in place and are are they aware?

WOLF:  Yes, that's our policy; we get training and if something like this occurs, I take action.

GAVIN: Last month, legislation was proposed in the Senate seeking to ban nondisclosure agreements in cases involving sexual harassment and assault; in the State House a proposal to ban nondisclosure agreements that hide elected officials names; prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for settlements; and add protections so victims aren't forced to work alongside their abusers. How much support are you adding to these pieces of legislation?

WOLF:  I support what they're doing and I think this is something that we are not only call attention to it, but continue to fight wherever it rears its ugly head.

GAVIN: As most people know, before your becoming governor, you were a businessman. You had, I believe, a couple of hundred employees. What steps did you take to either eliminate or prevent such behavior in your own company?

WOLF: We did training to make sure the people understood the policy, why the policy was in place; continual training and we got to the point of monitoring internet activity so that we made it clear that no instance of misbehavior along these lines would be tolerated.

GAVIN: Did you have to take steps against anyone?

WOLF: Yes.

GAVIN: Did that involve termination or some other sort of reprimand?

WOLF: I followed the procedure that is involved. It involved, I think in every case, termination.

GAVIN:  In your op-ed piece you talked about the need for more women in decision-making positions, particularly in the General Assembly.  In the House, which has 203 members, I believe there are 40 women. In the Senate, seven of the 50 senators are women. What are you doing to encourage more women to run and those who are running to help them with their campaigns?

WOLF: Well, it is like encouraging more women to want to actually run; want to make sure that we're doing a better job. I think Pennsylvania is one of the worst states in the country in terms of percentage of women legislators so we need to do a better job and a part of that is recruitment. I think part of it is what these bills are trying to do and that is to say we're we are not going to tolerate a culture that makes service difficult for people simply because of their gender.

GAVIN: Have you heard anecdotally or formally about male legislators harassing their colleagues who are women?

WOLF:  No. I mean, I don't know that directly, but I I've read the same things that you've read and heard the same reports that you heard. So it apparently goes on in Harrisburg outside of my administration. If it happens in my administration, I take action.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
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