SPRINGFIELD — A panel formed to hear from women about their experiences with harassment in Illinois political campaigns and government has issued a 37-page report recommending ways for the state’s political parties and campaigns at all levels to combat sexual harassment and other misconduct.
The report by the Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access panel also made recommendations for parties to get more women involved in campaigns and running for office with a “concrete goal of women filling 50 percent of the seats in the Illinois General Assembly.”
The panel was formed earlier this year by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, after reports surfaced of women who said they were sexually harassed while working in or dealing with state government and while working in political campaigns. It was composed of Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake and Rep. Carol Ammons of Champaign. All of them are Democrats, but they said they weren’t approaching the issue in a partisan manner.
“There are changes that need to take place,” Bush said. “We’re providing a road map for any political party or anyone involved in politics to break from the past so women are no longer debased and subjected to unacceptable behavior in the workplace.”
Bush, Mendoza and Ammons held a half dozen sessions around the state to privately hear from women about their harassment experiences in government and campaigns.
“The women we heard from on our statewide listening tour confirmed the old boys’ culture, a product of decades of institutionalized sexism, racism is alive and well in Illinois politics,” the report said.
The report makes nine recommendations that political parties and campaigns can adopt to “create safe, dignified work environments that are free from sexual harassment and other misconduct.”
The recommendations include:
• Tie party funding and other resources to campaigns adopting anti-harassment policies and undergoing training.
• Provide anti-sexual harassment training to everyone involved in campaigns. State parties should provide it several times a year, the report said.
• Establish an independent body to investigate claims of harassment.
• Provide several avenues for someone to report harassment, although all of them would be within the campaign apparatus.
• Prohibit nondisclosure agreements and mandatory arbitration requirements that could stifle efforts to air complaints.
• Prohibit retaliation and provide support services to victims of sexual harassment.
All of the recommendations are up to the political parties and individual campaigns to follow. The report does not recommend any changes to state law or impose penalties for not complying.
However, Mendoza said there are legislative panels working to address harassment in government and “there will be some law moving forward.” She also said the political parties can start implementing the report’s recommendations now and not have to wait for the Legislature to act.
Bush said parties and campaigns risk voter backlash if they don’t adopt the recommendations and live by them.
“The biggest thing is, the voters are going to start asking them,” Bush said. “Once we put these out as best practices, I think it’s a road map also for voters to look at and then go to their elected leadership and the candidates that are running and say, ‘Are you doing this?’"
“I think the accountability factor is there,” Ammons added.
The report also dealt with trying to get more women involved in elections and running for office. It recommended state parties hire a director of diversity to recruit more diverse candidates to run for office and serve in top-level staff positions.
It recommended parties invest money in training women and developing them to run for office and lead campaigns, as well as “require diversity in the pool of applicants or candidates” for political vacancies and leadership positions. The report alluded to the “Rooney Rule” in professional football that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching jobs.
In Illinois, 35 percent of the General Assembly is female. That puts the state sixth among the country’s state legislatures.
“While sixth place is great, it’s not good enough,” Mendoza said.
She said both major parties need to make a more concerted effort to recruit women to run and then provide them with the resources they will need to win an election.
The report is being sent to the Republican, Democrat, Green and Libertarian party leaders at the state and county level, as well as every campaign for state office currently registered with the Board of Elections. Bush said the panel has been discussing how best to follow up to see that the recommendations are adopted.
“I don’t think we’re done,” Bush said. “We didn’t just put a report together to put on a shelf. We mean to see that this culture’s changed.”