State Sens. Uresti, Miles deny sexual misconduct claims

  • Johnathan Silver
  • American-Statesman Staff
5:58 p.m Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 Local
State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio (RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

5:55 p.m. update: State Sen. Borris Miles pushed back against claims he sexually harassed women at the Capitol.

“Because I’ve shown myself to be an effective voice of the people, I have made powerful enemies who will go to any length to destroy and disrupt my service,” Miles said in a statement Thursday evening. “I will not continue to address anonymous accusations that attack my personal and professional character as an effective lawmaker.”

Miles said he plans to work with his collegues in the Senate to examine and develop sexual harassment policy that “allows all people due process and assurances they may work effectively in a fair and safe environment.”

Miles and Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, are accused of sexual misconduct. They’ve both denied the allegations published Wednesday in a Daily Beast report. Both senators also are facing calls to resign.

4:45 p.m update: State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, said in a statement that a progressive group’s request for him to resign amid allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted women at the Capitol is based on “an unsourced article from the Daily Beast.”

“While the story ends that the people being interviewed for this story ‘asked not to be named,’ such unsourced accusations, without specific information as to time, place or alleged accuser, prevents me from being able to defend myself from completely unfounded innuendo,” Uresti said Thursday.

His comments follow a Daily Beast article published Wednesday night that names Uresti and Sen. Borris Miles of Houston as men who have sexually harassed and assaulted women at the Capitol. Uresti is accused of forcibly kissing a journalist, and asking a political consultant about her underwear and giving her inappropriate hugs on more than one occasion. Miles is accused of touching the hip of the same consultant, commenting on her breasts and propositioning a legislative intern. The women making the claims were not identified in the story.

Uresti also denied a specific incident referenced in the story about a young woman sitting on his lap at a party. An anonymous source told The Daily Beast that she might have been a staffer.

“While the Daily Beast reporter was correct that I had been seen that night with a beautiful woman; that woman was my beautiful wife, Lleanna, with whom I had exchanged marital vows in June of 2012,” he said. “We then sent the Daily Beast the photograph from that night of my wife Lleanna and I together celebrating the beginning of her first legislative session as my wife. This photograph has long been proudly placed on her Facebook Page for almost five years.”

Annie’s List — an influential political organization that supports progressive women running for public office in Texas — called for Uresti and Miles to resign, “following credible allegations of sexual misconduct.” Representatives for Miles have not responded to requests for comment.

Meanwhile Thursday, Senate Democrats have called for investigations into allegations raised in the Daily Beast article.

Sen. José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat and chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, called the allegations unacceptable.

“It is even more reprehensible for an elected official considering the inherent power imbalance,” he said in a statement to the American-Statesman Thursday. “Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed.”

Rodriguez said he supports efforts to revise the chamber’s sexual harassment policies, “but we must go further,” he added.

“I call on our state’s leaders to establish an independent body that would be charged with investigation and oversight of harassment complaints that is fully funded and not beholden to any legislator or legislative body,” Rodriguez said. “This would allow victims of harassment to feel safe to report complaints and to be protected from retaliation.”

Earlier Thursday, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, called for independent investigations into the allegations against her colleagues, and in a letter to Senate Administration Committee Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, Garcia asked Kolkhorst to call a public hearing to review the chamber’s sexual harassment policies and reporting procedures.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, reiterated Thursday his call for Kolkhorst to hold a hearing about the Senate’s policies and procedures.

“The Senate must create an effective means for reporting and investigating allegations as well as following through on those findings,” he said in a statement. “It must happen now.”

The Legislature has failed to create a safe environment for women, Watson said.

“All of these accusations are deeply disturbing and should be thoroughly examined,” he added. “But we have no true mechanism or process for doing so in the Texas Senate. If we did, women might not feel compelled to stay silent for years, hoping they don’t run into the aggressor in a Capitol elevator.”

In a statement, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called the allegations against Uresti and Miles serious, noting that both have denied the claims.

“I have spoken with Chairman Lois Kolkhorst, who I recently asked to review the Senate’s longstanding sexual harassment prevention training and reporting procedures to determine if there are additional steps we should take,” he added. “I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior.”

On the other side of the aisle, Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson said the allegations against Miles “warrant full investigation by criminal authorities and possible legislative censure of this Democrat Senator.”

“As the father of a grown daughter myself, I find these charges appalling,” he said in the statement. “No one should be treated as he has been accused of doing, much less a young female intern. These reports illustrate what can happen when politicians abuse power and mistreat the citizens they should serve.”

Earlier: State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, called Thursday for independent investigations into sexual assault and harassment allegations against lawmakers, after The Daily Beast published claims Wednesday night of misconduct by Sens. Borris Miles, D-Houston, and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Allegations include Miles touching the hip of a political consultant and commenting on her breasts, and propositioning a legislative intern. Uresti is accused of forcibly kissing a journalist, and once asking the same consultant about her underwear and inappropriately hugging her on more than one occasion. The women making the claims were not identified in the story.

Miles and Uresti did not have immediate comments on the article.

“I find the charges reported to be very alarming and I commend the brave individuals who have come forward about their experiences in the Texas Capitol and across the country,” Garcia said in a statement Thursday. “There is no excuse for sexual harassment, discrimination, abuse or bullying.”

Garcia also called for a “hotline to report abuse in Texas government to ensure there is an independent and transparent path to justice for people who have been harassed or assaulted and due process for all parties involved.”

In a letter to Senate Administration Committee Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, Garcia asked her colleague to call a public hearing to review the chamber’s sexual harassment policies and reporting procedures.

“As a legislative body, we must be diligent, deliberative, and effective in our effort to combat the systemic failings, which contribute to the type of environment that breeds such abhorrent, reprehensible conduct within this building,” she said in the letter. “We must ensure that we protect the most vulnerable among us, and in doing so create a structure to independently investigate allegations and honor those who are brave enough to come forward.”

RELATED: Amid harassment complaints, Texas House panel adopts new policy

The House Administration Committee unanimously approved an updated sexual harassment policy late last week that gives examples of such harassment, offers guidance for internal and external complaint processes and lays out counseling information. The policy also requires sexual harassment training for all House members, employees and interns, though it’s not enforceable for legislators.

The move followed media reports of sexual misconduct at the Capitol in The Daily Beast and The Texas Tribune last month detailing claims of sexual harassment and assault by male lawmakers and others at the Capitol. The reports mostly relied on anonymous sources.