A Democratic state lawmaker from St. Louis facing censure by the Missouri House says he will not resign as legislative leaders begin imposing sanctions recommended by the House Ethics Committee.
State Rep. Wiley Price IV, D-St. Louis, told The Missouri Independent Friday that he did not intend to give up his seat in the House after the committee found he had lied under oath and harassed an employee who reported that he told them he had sex with an intern.
In a text message to The Independent, Price said he would make further statements about the case “soon.”
In a letter dated Thursday, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, informed Price that she would not appoint him to any committees when the new legislative session begins next month.
Price was also stripped of his current seat on the House Utilities Committee, but Quade noted that move was symbolic because “the House of Representatives isn’t expected to meet again this year.”
Price is also a member of the Special Committee on Career Readiness, the Special Committee on Criminal Justice and the Special Committee on Government Oversight.
“Since the House Speaker has direct appointment authority over the other three committees on which you currently serve, your continued membership on those committees will be at his discretion,” Quade wrote.
By removing him from his committee post, Quade told Price she was implementing one of the recommendations of the committee report, which also includes the call for the House vote to censure him and to require him to pay $22,492 to cover the cost of the investigation.
The report also recommends Price be forbidden from employing an intern and any legislative assistant assigned to work for him do so under the supervision of House administration.
In the report issued Wednesday, the 10-member committee endorsed findings that Price had tried to prevent his legislative assistant from reporting him after he told her that he and an intern had sex.
The report concluded that Price committed perjury in his testimony, obstructed the investigation and “compromised the ability of the House to provide a respectful, professional work environment.”
House policies adopted in the fall of 2015 in response to a scandal that forced House Speaker John Diehl to resign, state that “no state representative or House Officer may engage in any amorous or romantic relationship” with employees or interns.
The report details the events that led to the investigation and Price’s attempts to cover up his relationship with the intern. He threatened to fire the legislative assistant if she reported his statement, as required under House rules.
The report also says that he committed perjury during the committee’s investigation and attempted to coerce the legislative assistant to change her story and that his attorney breached the confidentiality of the process by recording it.
The response from Quade is the first concrete step to implement the committee’s recommendations. Her initial response on Wednesday did not mention any specific steps she would support.
Now that the House Ethics Committee investigation is complete, the next step will be for the full House to evaluate the evidence and determine the appropriate action, Quade said.
“We expect that process to be conducted in a swift and fair manner when the legislature reconvenes in January.”
That was in contrast to House Republican leaders, who quickly issued a joint statement on Wednesday endorsing the recommendations.
“We will pursue the recommendation for censure that was unanimously approved by the five Republicans and five Democrats who make up the committee,” the GOP leadership stated.
Calls for resignation
Several lawmakers have gone farther, calling on Price to resign and criticizing Quade for not demanding Price step aside.
“I’m not sure why this isn’t clear to the Democrat leadership in the [House],” State Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holt’s Summit, wrote in a series of tweets on Wednesday. “[Quade’s] statement on it today isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to protect our interns. And, it isn’t enough to change the culture of sexual harassment in the building.”
Price was unopposed this year for a second term to represent the 28th House District, which includes the area around Forest Park in St. Louis. He was initially elected in 2018 after winning a primary and an unopposed election in the fall.
Refusing to demand Price’s resignation undermines work done after Diehl’s resignation to change the culture of the House, Fitzwater wrote.
“After the fallout of a former speaker, Republican John Diehl, being caught in an inappropriate relationship with an intern, something had to be done,” wrote Fitzwater, who worked on the new policies barring even consensual, romantic relationships between lawmakers, employees and interns. “And, that was probably just the tip of the iceberg on sexual harassment in the building. Many things had to change.”
Fitzwater contrasted Quade’s lack of specifics in her statement Wednesday with her criticism of Republican leadership and her calls for the House to refuse to seat state Rep.-elect Rick Roeber, R-Lee’s Summit, accused by his adult children of sexually abusing them while they were young.
Republicans have decided that Roeber will not be allowed to caucus with them after he is sworn in Jan. 6. They also promised the House Ethics Committee will investigate the case after he is a member. The committee has no authority over candidates for the House.
“As the leader of the Democrat caucus, and someone who has been more than vocal about a rep-elect who hasn’t even been sworn in yet, she sure has dropped the ball on wanting one of her own caucus members to have to be held to account for their actions,” Fitzwater wrote.
The Independent tried to reach several Democratic House members Thursday for comment on the committee report and how the caucus should handle his case. Most could not be reached.
State Rep. Gretchen Bangert, D-Florissant, said she had no issues with Quade’s statement.
Bangert noted that the ethics committee found “no proof” that Price actually did have sex with the intern.
Price denied it in his testimony, which the committee found was not credible. The intern denied it in an interview with an investigator but declined to testify under oath to the committee.
“I am sure our leadership is discussing it and trying to figure out what steps they are going to take at this point in time,” Bangert said.
The calls for Price to resign intensified on Friday.
Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Advocates of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, released a statement acknowledging that there was “a real racist history of Black men being wrongly accused of sexual misconduct in this country.”
However, she said, “it is also true that in this instance, there is a detailed and credible report documenting repeated abuses of power by Rep. Price.”
“Rep. Price’s actions have contributed to a hostile and unsafe work environment in the Missouri Capitol,” Rodríguez said, “and he should resign immediately.”
Joining Rodríguez in calling for Price to step down was Mallory Schwarz, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri.
“The report of abuse of power by Rep. Wiley Price this week leaves only one conclusion to be drawn,” Schwarz said. “He is unfit to serve and must immediately resign.”
This article is published by permission of the Missouri Independent.