A former staffer of Republican Ohio State Representative Scott Wiggam published a scathing two page letter on Sunday, accusing Wiggam and two other lawmakers of racist and sexist abuse.
In the letter Marissa Reyes says that on one instance Wiggam told her she was “the good kind of Mexican.”
Prompted by Larry Householder bid for speakership
Reyes wrote her letter to her own representative, Democrat Kristin Boggs, urging her to vote against Republican candidate for Speaker of the House Larry Householder.
On Thursday the Columbus Dispatch reported that several Democrats were backing Householder’s bids thanks to a package of commitments he had made, which included sensitivity training for House members.
After having endured months of insensitive comments and actions from members and their staff she considers allied to Householder, Reyes decided to speak up.
Speaking of her employment with Wiggam she wrote, “During my time as a staffer in this office, I had to endure months of unacceptable treatment and was forced to listen to the Representative’s opinions that painted myself, my family and other Hispanics in a demeaning light.
“When I respectfully disagreed with the Representative about an issue, I was told that ‘women do not think logically, they think with their hearts not with their brains.’
“I was told my views on immigration do not matter because my parents are immigrants from Latin American countries,” she continued. “I was once referred to as ‘the good type of Mexican’ by the Representative.”
Scott Wiggam not the only alleged offender
In addition to the allegations against Wiggam, Reyes also described an office culture generally hostile to women and minorities among Republican legislators allied to Householder.
“Rep. Householder-affiliated staffers would enter my office and stay for hours, even after I asked them to leave, and would sometimes be waiting in my office upon my return. On more than one occasion they came around my desk, and made unwanted advances.”
During a conversation with Representative Derek Merrin, Reyes says the legislator told her that Mexicans are dangerous people. “He went on to tell a story of how he was ‘nearly killed’ by a group of Mexican thugs while visiting Mexico.”
At a Christmas party in December Reyes says she was told by now-former Representative Wes Rutherford that he would “prefer to see me with my dress off.”
Investigation underway with GOP support
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, a House GOP spokesperson has confirmed there is an active investigation underway into Reyes’ claims.
Wiggam and Merrin both denied the allegations made against them.
“The allegations made against me are absolutely false,” Wiggam told the Columbus Dispatch. “I believe that the allegations were politically motivated and coordinated by the outgoing leadership team. I am seeking House legal counsel and I call for a full investigation to clear my name.”
Representative Kristin Boggs, the recipient of the letter, was sympathetic to Reyes’ message without endorsing its conclusions.
“Ultimately the speaker is in charge of managing and addressing this type of misconduct and bad behavior,” she told the Dispatch. “But she wants to make someone who’s not in charge yet the fall guy for it. I’m having trouble reconciling that.”
Boggs and 25 other Democrats did ultimately back Householder in his successful bid for the speakership, replacing Cliff Rosenberger who was term-limited and under investigation by the FBI.
Despite her letter not preventing Householder’s election, Reyes’ account has been received sympathetically by some Republican members.
“I am heartbroken by what has happened to Marissa Reyes and I thank her for the courage it took to come forward,” tweeted Representative Theresa Gavarone.
“I support a full investigation into this matter and demand the perpetrators be held accountable for their actions,” she added.
Republican Representative Steve Arndt also expressed his support.
“Marissa is a fantastic person and certainly did not deserve to be treated this way,” he said. “I understood you had issues with your boss, but not nearly to this extent.”
Reyes remains a legislative aide in the Ohio House, now working for Republican Representative Bob Cupp.