Assembly must act swiftly on sexual misconduct allegations against Matt Dababneh

Sacramento lobbyist Pamela Lopez, second from left, and Jessica Yas Barker, second from right, speak out against Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, a San Fernando Valley Democrat.
Sacramento lobbyist Pamela Lopez, second from left, and Jessica Yas Barker, second from right, speak out against Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, a San Fernando Valley Democrat. rpench@sacbee.com

In excruciating detail, lobbyist Pamela Lopez publicly named Assemblyman Matt Dababneh as the lawmaker she says masturbated in front of her in a Las Vegas restroom in 2016.

“I can’t believe I did that,” Lopez says Dababneh told her after he finished. He demanded she tell no one. She called it terrifying.

The Assembly should suspend the San Fernando Valley Democrat pending its investigation, as would happen in many private workplaces, and that inquiry should be tough. Lopez ought to file a criminal complaint.

Although Dababneh has denied the wrongdoing, the situation is tailor-made as a test of Proposition 50, a ballot measure approved with more than 75 percent of the vote in 2016, which allows the Senate or Assembly to cut the pay of legislators who are suspended by a two-thirds vote of their house. The Legislature will be back in session next month and should vote on suspending Dababneh.

Lopez described the incident first to The New York Times but did not name Dababneh, worried that her ability to earn a living would suffer. She changed her mind after Assembly Rules Committee Chairman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, promised in an Assembly hearing last week that he would protect women who come forward.

“I’ve heard from enough women that I’m fearful and worried that this will happen again,” Lopez said.

To add weight to her statement, Lopez was joined at the press conference by Jessica Yas Barker, who was a young aide to Rep. Brad Sherman working in his San Fernando district office when Dababneh was district director. Barker described inappropriate statements by Dababneh about her style of dress and his sexual prowess. She said he also made sure she saw that he had an office drawer full of condoms.

She quit, but remains active in Democratic politics. She said she never told Sherman. But the congressman needs to investigate as well, to determine whether anyone else might have been subject to workplace indignities.

Voters elected Dababneh in a special election in 2013, and have reelected him twice in a safe Democratic district. Whether he stays depends in no small part on Assembly leaders, and whether his donors enable him by giving him campaign money.

Dababneh chairs the Assembly committee that oversees banking and finance, and receives significant contributions from interest groups that seek to limit the right to sue, as well as Realtors, banking and insurance interests, and physicians groups.

In fact, his donors are much like those of Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, who until last week chaired the Senate committee that oversees banking and insurance. The state Senate last week stripped Mendoza of his chairmanship after he was accused of multiple instances of sexual harassment.

The #MeToo reckoning hit the state Capitol in October, when scores of women lobbyists, staffers, consultants and others issued their #WeSaidEnough letter.

“The time has come for good men to listen, to believe us, and to act as strong allies by speaking out against harassment in all its forms,” they say on their website.

Despite Dababneh’s denials, Assembly leaders should take these allegations seriously. They must recognize how difficult it is for these women to stand up publicly – a lobbyist such as Lopez against a legislator whose vote she needs, or a Democratic activist such as Barker against a Democratic lawmaker.

It’s not in their self interest. They want to end workplace harassment, as should we all. No one should have to suffer harassment and criminal acts simply to work at their chosen profession.

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