DISPUTED SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATION LEVELED AGAINST GOP LAWMAKER
A South Carolina state lawmaker was pressured to resign his post this week – ostensibly for “health purposes” – in the aftermath of an alleged sexual harassment incident.
This time, though, the alleged “harassment” is said to have occurred in plain sight on the floor of the S.C. House of Representatives – while some lawmakers have suggested that the allegation could have been ginned up as part of a political vendetta against the lawmaker in question.
S.C. Rep. Eddie Southard – a “Republican” from Berkeley County, S.C. – was reportedly told by S.C. House leaders this week that he should resign his office immediately in order to avoid a sexual harassment story being leaked to the media.
“I was told if I resigned before the ethics committee met on the issue – it would go no further,” Southard told FITS. “I remember the exact words they told me – ‘If you resign you are no longer in the House and the House has no authority to investigate you.'”
“I was shocked,” he said.
Southard said he considered resigning to spare his family any embarrassment.
“I was going to try and put the fire out and just resign because I’m in a no-win situation,” he said. “I know no one is going to believe me in that sort of ‘he-said, she-said’ situation.”
Two hours later, though, Southard said he heard lawmakers “whispering behind (his) back” about the situation – indicating the information had already been leaked.
“When I found that out, I said rather than resigning I’m going to try to defend myself against what I believe to be false accusations,” he said, adding “I was led to believe it was in total confidentiality until the ethics committee got through with whatever they did.”
So … what happened?
What set off all of this drama?
Southard, 69, is accused of touching a female page on the knee, tapping her on the sole of her shoe and calling her “beautiful.”
Wait … that’s it?
The incident allegedly occurred on March 23 of this year as Southard was attempting to offer an amendment to the state budget. The page in question volunteered to assist him in preparing his budget amendment, and sat next to Southard at his desk on the floor of the S.C. House.
Southard said the aide never gave him any reason to believe that he had behaved improperly toward her. He said he was surprised weeks after the fact to discover she had filed a complaint against him.
“She did an excellent job,” Southard said. “She seemed proud of what she did to help me.”
Southard added that he and the aide never left the floor of the House during the time she assisted him with his amendment.
So … what’s really going on here?
One of Southard’s allies in the House told us the third-term lawmaker has been a longtime “irritant” to leadership – and that because of his cool relations with certain influential legislators he was being “set up on a bogus sexual harassment charge.”
“I ask a lot of questions in our caucus meetings,” Southard acknowledged. “I’m known for being very vocal. I’m very opinionated. I don’t know if that’s got anything to do with it or not. I hope not.”
Others said Southard has behaved “questionably” toward female pages in the past.
This website is not releasing the name of Southard’s accuser – a young, black page in her twenties – although we will offer her every opportunity to tell her side of the story in the event she wishes to do so.
S.C. ethics committee chairman Kenny Bingham had no comment regarding the Southard case.
For those of you who missed our reference at the top of this story, former S.C. Rep. Nelson Hardwick was indicted last November on sexual harassment charges. The 64-year-old was accused of luring a S.C. House staffer to his office and touching her “inappropriately.” Hardwick gave up his seat in the aftermath of the charges – but later attempted to rescind his resignation. Legislative leaders were having none of it, though – and told Hardwick they would not seat him.
Sexual harassment is rampant at the S.C. State House, although it is rarely reported. Also, given that the legislature polices itself in such matters, it’s rare for a complaint to generate much momentum unless there is some political benefit to be derived from pursuing it.