California State Senator Bob Hertzberg banned from hugging colleagues

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California State Senator Bob Hertzberg aka Huggy Bear
Photo: Christopher Michel, CC2.0

California State Senator Bob Hertzberg, known widely by his nickname “Huggy Bear” because of his tendency to hug those around him, has been banned from initiating hugs following complaints from two fellow-senators.

Nobody touches the Bear (at least not for now)

In December 2017 the Sacremento Bee reported speaking to three California legislators who had embraces with the Democrat from Van Nuys that were “too long and overly intimate for their comfort.”

Two of the women, who are still sitting legislators, asked for their names to be kept

Former Assemblywoman Linda Halderman
Former Assemblywoman Linda Halderman

private. Former Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, who served from 2010-12, was willing to be named, however. She told the Bee that she had “nothing to lose now except my privacy.”

According to Halderman, she met Bob Hertzberg at freshmen legislator orientation where he “kind of grabbed me and hugged me too long.” After that, even though he did not know her, she claimed that Hertzberg would hug her ever time he passed her in the hall.

Eventually she says she confronted him. “I’m not a hugger. I’m not really comfortable with that,” she said.

According to the original report in the Bee, Hertzberg did not respond well to being challenged:

“[Halderman] said he grabbed her anyway and pinned her in his arms, with one hand on her lower back, so that she couldn’t turn away from him, then he thrust his groin into her.

“‘It was like dirty dancing. It was gross. I was really just kind of horrified, because you don’t do that. You just don’t do that. It was so out of context and inappropriate,’ Halderman said. ‘It was so clearly a sexual thing, rather than a friendly thing.'”

Halderman chose not to run for reelection in 2012 – the incidents with Bob Hertzberg were not her only reasons, but were a contributing factor. She told her story to the politics blog Flash Report in 2013, but pre-Harvey Weinstein her revelations did not have the impact they would five years later.

Bob Hertzberg put on notice, apologizes

Following the Sacremento Bee story, the Senate Rules Committee launched an inquiry into Boby Hertzberg’s behavior. After speaking to 28 people the committee concluded that they could not support Halderman’s accounts of multiple unwanted hugs with her, and that the vast majority of Hertzberg’s hug recipients did not view the experience negatively.

“Many of the witnesses spoke in support of Hertzberg and described his hugs in positive terms such as friendly, warm and welcoming,” they concluded.

However, the committee did find that Hertzberg’s hugs were sometimes unwanted, and instructed him to stop hugging, saying:

“The Senate Rules Committee instructs you that you are now on notice that your behavior has been unwelcome. The Rules Committee also instructs you not to initiate hugs. You cannot solve the problem by asking someone if a hug is unwelcome or welcome because a person may not feel comfortable telling you it is unwelcome. Any further similar behavior will result in the Rules Committee recommending more severe discipline.”

Hertzberg is repentant. He tole the Los Angles Times in an interivew, “To the extent anyone has felt uncomfortable with any of my hugs, I apologize to them. I’ve never meant anything other than just warmth and human connection, which I think has value in society.”

Whence Huggy Bear?

At the 2000 California Democratic convention Hertzberg distributed buttons that read, “I was hugged by Assemblymember Bob Hertzberg.” Hugging, which once defined his political persona, is now off the table.

In a statement issued following his reprimand the senator wrote:

“All my life, a hug has been a way of greeting friends and colleagues – a gesture of warmth and kindness and a reflection of my exuberance.

“Even so, I understand that I cannot control how a hug is received, and that not everyone has the ability to speak up about unwelcome behavior.

“It is my responsibility to be mindful of this, and to respect the Rules Committee’s request to not initiate hugs.”

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