Capitol Alert

Amid sexual harassment investigation, GOP leaders ask California lawmaker to retire

If Assemblyman Bill Brough wants to win his 2020 re-election bid, he’ll have to do so without the support of his own party.

With open investigations into the Dana Point Republican’s potential campaign misspending and accusations of sexual harassment, the Orange County GOP on Monday called for Brough to retire rather than seek re-election “based on the totality of the circumstances and controversies” surrounding him.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is reviewing campaign finance concerns, and The Sacramento Bee reported last week that the California Legislature’s Workplace Conduct Unit is investigating alleged harassment.

The party’s central committee “did the right thing today,” said Fred Whitaker, chairman of the county’s Republican Party. “We passed a resolution that dealt with the totality of the circumstances. Brough needs to take care of these allegations and deal with it while not running for office. We need to have a different face.”

Lisa Bartlett, an Orange County supervisor who has accused Brough of making unwanted sexual advances, said the assemblyman “stormed out of the room” following the decision and vowed to continue campaigning in 2020.

“It was a very tense evening,” Bartlett said. “Some of us didn’t know Bill would attend the meeting. It was surprising to see him there. He was very hostile.”

Brough did not respond to a request for comment. He must file for re-election between Nov. 11 and Dec. 6, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Brough continues to dismiss allegations from all accusers, insisting he has “done nothing wrong.” While party leaders say Brough is entitled to due process and are not yet calling for his resignation, they believe it’s time to turn a corner.

“Tonight’s action is just a way to make sure our momentum coming back (as a party) stays in place,” Whitaker said. “I certainly believe the (alleged) victims are very credible.”

Maria Elena Banks, a Laguna Beach real estate agent, told The Bee in June that Brough harassed her about five years ago. Bartlett also accused the assemblyman of making unwanted sexual advances.

Two additional women released public statements on Monday describing alleged misconduct by Brough, one of whom said she filed a formal complaint against him in 2017. They said they both came forward after Brough identified them by name in a message to supporters.

California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Patterson said at a Sacramento Press Club event last week that party endorsements are made at the county level but added, “I don’t foresee us making endorsements in that race until all of this is brought to sunlight.”

The Lincoln Club of Orange County, an influential local political organization, voted unanimously last week to rescind its endorsement of Brough.

“Republicans need strong, unencumbered leadership, undistracted by disturbing accusations about personal behavior,” the group said in a statement.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.