During his 2016 re-election campaign, Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan from Minnesota rehired former staffer Jim Swiderski. Only months previously, Swiderski had been allowed to resign quietly from Nolan’s office after being accused of multiple sexual harassment allegations.
Now Nolan, currently running for Minnesota Lieutenant Governor, is facing calls from multiple elected Democrats to resign himself.
Rick Nolan rehired Jim Swiderski
As revealed in an investigative article by MinnPost’s Sam Brody, Rick Nolan and two staffers let his legislative director Jim Swiderski resign without facing disciplinary action in June 2015. This followed a spate of sexual harassment allegations being made against him.
MinnPost spoke to eight female former staffers from Nolan’s DC office, and their accounts follow the classic #MeToo power imbalance narrative.
Speaking under anonymity, one former college student who spent a summer interning with Nolan said that she was reliant on Swiderski for her assignments. He made it clear he wanted more than just a professional relationship.
“He would touch me in some way that was inappropriate probably once a week. He would do something. Sometimes, he would tap the ass, sometimes he would grab it, it was always like that. And every time, I would just ignore it. Not say anything, not react, because you don’t want anyone else to know. You’re embarrassed. You’re ashamed of what’s happening.
“You don’t believe it’s happening when it’s happening. Because you’re like, there’s no way this 65-year-old man just grabbed my ass in an office with people around. And you just hope nobody finds out because you’re so disgusted with it. You physically feel disgusting from it. Even though it’s not your fault, even though you’ve done nothing to provoke this, you’re just standing there filing shit and he’ll touch you.”
Over time, Nolan’s chief of staff Jodie Torkelson received multiple complaints about Swiderski. It took one staffer printing off a series of inappropriate Facebook messages to force action. Not long after Swiderski announced he would be leaving Nolan’s team to seek a Presidential appointment with the Peace Corps, and was honored with an office leaving party that included a cake.
A mere nine months later, Swiderski was hired back by Nolan in March 2016 to work as a writer for his Congressional re-election campaign. Although formally a “remote worker” operating from his home in Minnesota, he attended some re-election campaign events. This was a huge shock to the women still working for Nolan who had complained against him.
Rick Nolan runs for Minnesota Lt. Governor
After winning in 2016 by only a few thousand votes, Rick Nolan decided not to seek re-election in 2018. Instead he is currently the running-mate of Minnesota gubernatorial candidate and current state Attorney General Lori Swanson.
The decision to seek higher office has provoked some former staffers to begin speaking up about the way Nolan handled the accusations against Swiderski and then quietly rehired him after the dust had settled.
Although Swiderski denies all allegations against him, Nolan is facing increasing pressure to resign from Congress before his term ends in six months time. Yesterday seven Democratic lawmakers from Duluth – the largest city in Nolan’s district – called on him to do just that.
The State Senator, three Duluth city councilors, two school board members, and a county commissioner said in a letter, “It’s important as elected officials to hold each other accountable for our actions. This is why we are asking for Rep. Nolan to resign his congressional seat.
“We believe that sexual harassment and misconduct is never acceptable, that dismissal should be immediate for men who participate in this behavior such as Rep. Nolan’s former legislative director, and that all people deserve respect in the workplace.”
Nolan shows no sign of buckling to the mounting pressure, but there is a clear, recent example of a US Representative stepping down after doing something very similar.
Connecticut’s Elizabeth Esty is not seeking re-election this year (for any office) after writing a reference for a former chief of staff who had left her employment following sexual harassment allegations. Unlike Nolan, however, Esty did not actually re-hire her former employee. She also instructed him to receive counselling.
But Rick Nolan has one key ally (at least for now) that trumps all others: his running-mate Lori Swanson. Since the initial story broke she has defended him in public and even called him a “champion of women.”
For evidence, Swanson cited Nolan’s legislative record, saying, “He was one of the first advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment. He’s sponsored legislation for equal pay for women and legislation to reduce violence against women.”
It all sounds remarkably similar to President Bill Clinton’s recent defense of his status as a champion of women on the Today Show. He had two women chiefs of staff while Governor of Arkansas years before the scandal about his improper relationship with a White House staffer broke. However difficult the road ahead is for Rick Nolan, at least he knows that Bill Clinton feels his pain.