Hammond calls on Manweller to resign now

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Emry Dinman/Columbia Basin Herald A sample ballot shows the candidates that have earned a spot in the general election. Nothing, not even the death of a candidate, can change which two candidates who will appear on the November ballot.

Sylvia Hammond, Democratic challenger to embattled Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Cle Elum, has called on him to resign immediately in the wake of another accusation of sexual impropriety from a former high school student of the lawmaker’s, this time involving claims of statutory rape.

“While I’m glad that Manweller is finally facing consequences for his actions, I continue to be disappointed in him for not accepting any responsibility for himself,” Hammond said in a statement Wednesday. “He offered no apology to the women affected by his behavior and no apology to the 13th Legislative District for bringing disgrace to the office of Representative.”

Hammond’s call follows Manweller’s announcement Monday that he would not resign unless re-elected to the state legislature this November. State House Republican leadership called on Manweller to step down Friday after they learned of new allegations that Manweller had engaged in a sexual relationship with an underaged former high school student of his while she was 17 and he was 27.

Under Idaho state law, where this incident allegedly occurred, such a relationship would be statutory rape. Manweller has denied ever having a sexual relationship with a woman under the age of 18, but he has not denied having had a relationship with the woman in question. Manweller didn’t address the validity of the allegations in Monday’s statement, and instead referenced the amount of time that has passed since the alleged affair.

“As the Kavanaugh hearings have shown, there is no limit on how far back in time one can go to dig up such allegations,” Manweller wrote on Monday.

This was not the first time a former high school student of Manweller’s has accused him of underaged relations.

The lawmaker’s first wife, OraLynne Reeve, has previously accused Manweller of engaging in a relationship with her while she was still 17, and she has recently said that she met the Idaho woman while still a student. Reeve met Manweller, then her high school teacher, when she was 16, and has said she understood the Idaho woman was still in a relationship with Manweller at the time.

Manweller was also fired in August from his tenured teaching position at Central Washington University following an investigation into claims that Manweller had abused his position to sexually harass university students. The investigation concluded that Manweller had engaged “in a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior,” with current and former students, and unearthed allegations that Manweller had made students uncomfortable and offered to exchange sex for grades.

Manweller has previously denied any wrongdoing during his tenure at CWU, and is currently suing the university for over $2 million in damages.

Hammond and other Democrats in the 13th Legislative District, which Manweller currently represents, have expressed concerns that Manweller might not keep his promise to step down.

“I’m not sure that I believe that he would resign if ‘re-elected,’” said Steve Verhey, chair of the Kittitas County Democrats. “He has demonstrated that he doesn’t care what people feel about him with respect to these allegations – these things that actually did happen.”

There is also no legal guarantee that Manweller would follow through with his promise to resign if he was re-elected. The only process that could force Manweller’s hand would be the state House choosing to expel Manweller with a two-thirds vote of representatives. Assuming unanimous Democratic support for such a proceeding, expulsion would require the support of 16 Republican representatives.

“Even if he did step down (after re-election), it’s a travesty of the electoral process that people aren’t actually able to vote for the person who would actually represent them,” Verhey said. “He has really done a disservice to the people of this district by letting it get to this stage.”

If Manweller were to win re-election and later resign, Republican precinct committee officers would put forward three potential replacements. County Commissioners from Adams, Grant, Kittitas and Yakima counties, which all are at least partially within the 13th District, would then have to choose between the three candidates to find a replacement who would serve for the remainder of Manweller’s new term.

“(Manweller is) maneuvering and looking at this like a game, and what it doesn’t do is consider about what’s best for the voters,” Hammond said. “People want to know who they’re voting for, and if you’re to vote for a ghost of some kind, you don’t know their background or whether they really represent you. It’s legal, but it doesn’t feel like democracy.”

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