Republican Matt Manweller was overwhelmingly reelected to the Washington State House of Representatives on Tuesday despite a promise to resign immediately if given a new term.
First elected to represent rural central Washington’s District 13 in 2012, multiple allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior have been made against Manweller since late 2017.
“A pattern of inappropriate behavior”
In late 2017 as #MeToo allegations swept through political establishments across the country, the Seattle Times reported that Matt Manweller had previously faced complaints of sexually inappropriate behavior by several female students at Central Washington University.
CWU initially suspended Manweller from his teaching position before later firing him in August 2018. Simultaneous with his termination the university published its 85 page investigation report into allegations made by fifteen students in total. These included accounts of Manweller allegedly telling a female student “there’s always a way for you to get an A in this class” while placing a hand on her knee, and telling another student that the two had sexual energy and they should meet in a hotel to discuss her work “orally.”
Besides the report concluding that Manweller had engaged in a “pattern of inappropriate behavior,” CWU dean Tim Englund released a copy of Manweller’s termination letter which said the university “cannot tolerate your persistent inability to observe acceptable standards of professional ethics.”
Manweller has consistently denied all allegations made against him, describing the process as “death by a thousand cuts.”
Political pressure from the State House
While Manweller has consistently maintained his innocence, leaders in the Washington State House of Representatives began isolating him politically as revelations mounted.
In December 2017 House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen called on his fellow Republican to resign his position as assistant floor leader. He was also removed as ranking member of the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.
After ten months of mounting pressure, Manweller announced his plan to resign if re-elected in September.
“Today I am announcing that I will serve out the remainder of my term but it is not my intent to serve another term,” Manweller said in a statement. “If I am reelected, I plan to resign before the session begins or whatever the law requires.”
Why wait till after the election to resign?
The reason Manweller announced his plan to resign if reelected reflects the unusual process used in Washington State to fill vacant seats in the state legislature.
Rather than hold a special election, the state central committee of the party last held the seat is asked to draw up a shortlist of three potential replacements. Local county commissioners then select the new legislator from the the shortlist.
By staying in the race and resigning afterwards, Manweller could ensure the Washington State GOP had the opportunity to replace him, ensuring the seat stayed in Republican control.
Asking voters to elect a tarnished candidate on the promise that he would be replaced was an unortodox move, but it paid off for the Republicans. Matt Manweller received 64.5% of the vote on Tuesday.
Who will replace Matt Manweller?
“We selected three candidates that we will put forward to the county commission to replace Representative Matt Manweller,” Washington State GOP chairman Caleb Heimlich told KTTH radio yesterday.
“Folks were getting the message out that it was very important that Republicans held that seat,” Heimlich continued, “and make sure we had someone who would represent their values in that community.”
Responding to his election victory, Manweller posted a message to voters on his Facebook page:
“Tonight I won my fourth and final election by a solid 65%. I want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who voted for me tonight and for the past six years…
“Although I have enjoyed my time in the Legislature, this last election has been particularly ugly. For the past year my family and I have been attacked by tabloid reporters masquerading as legitimate journalists, publicity-seeking dishonest ex-students, a hyper partisan university and thousands of dollars in California liberal interest group money. Despite this, I am particularly proud of the fact that the voters of the 13th District saw through all the baloney and supported my re-election so overwhelmingly.”
Manweller was not the only state legislator seeking reelection this year following #MeToo allegations.
Republican David Byrd of Tennessee sought a new term following allegations of sexual misconduct by three former students during his time as a basketball coach at Wayne County High School. Byrd was reelected on Tuesday with nearly 78% of the vote.