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Lucy Flores On Kihuen, Harassment And Why She Speaks Out

(AP Photo/Michelle Rindels)

In this June 3, 2016 photo, Lucy Flores poses for a photo at her North Las Vegas campaign headquarters. Flores is one of three front runners in a competitive Democratic primary for Nevada's 4th Congressional District seat.

Fourth District Representative Ruben Kihuen became the latest high profile man to face charges of sexual harassment.

Buzzfeedbroke the story on Friday that a former finance director for Kihuen’s campaign accused the then-candidate of continually harassing her for dates – even though she repeatedly said no. Twice, said the finance director – who Buzzfeed identifies only as Samantha – Kihuen put his hand on her leg without her consent.

This treatment prompted Samantha to leave the campaign, she told Buzzfeed.

In the wake of the reporting, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has asked Kihuen to step down.

At first, the freshman Congressman said he wouldn't step down and has apologized for “anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable.” On Tuesday, however, Poltico reported that Kihuen's chief of staff was looking for jobs for those who work for him.

The next day The Hill reported that Kihuen was scrubbed from a Congressional reelection funding program.

And in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, Kihuen said that Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee knew about these allegations last year and decided to not only keep supporting his candidacy, but giving money to it. He said he will not resign.

Over the weekend, former state Assemblywoman Lucy Flores – who ran against Kihuen in the 2016 Congressional primary – told Politico that she wasn’t surprised by the allegations.

Flores told KNPR's State of Nevada that she has known Kihuen for years and even attended high school with him. 

“What I personally witnessed are many times he was inappropriately too close – in particular – to young women,” she said.

She said it was well known in the political arena she and Kihuen shared, but it was brushed off as "Ruben being Ruben." But, she said, that idea that it is just 'men being men' or 'boys will be boys' is part of the problem.

“Part of this is women actually stepping up and saying ‘no, that’s actually inappropriate behavior,’” Flores said.

She is also very unhappy with Kihuen's response to the allegations.

“My personal problem with Ruben Kihuen’s response in this situation is he did the very typical, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’ He didn’t deny it happened,” she said.

She found his original statement issued Dec. 1 "demeaning and insulting." She said if he had admitted to making a mistake and given a genuine apology that she could understand people wanting to give him a second chance. But she's not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I think he should do the right thing and either resign or state that he is not running for re-election,” she said.

As allegations like the ones against Kihuen and others continue to surface, questions about where the lines of appropriate behavior are drawn are also surfacing. 

“It is a very difficult to have this conversation because it’s so nuanced in so many different situations but that’s exactly the progress we should be making because now women are coming forward and we are having these conversations,” Flores said. 

And, she says, sexism and harassment are pervasive in the political circles she has traveled in. 

Last spring, Flores spoke out about the sexism she endured while working with former Bernie Sanders staffer Arturo Carmona. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, she explained how she was treated by Carmona. 

With Carmona, Flores makes a distinction between sexual harassment and sexism. Carmona, she says, was largely about women who experienced being demeaned by Carmona and treated in ways he did not treat men.

When former Sanders staffer Masha Mendieta published a piece on Medium on March 31, 2017, Flores said she felt she had to speak out to support the woman who leveled the accusations because she didn't want to leave her feeling alone. Subsequent to that, many women contributed to a  piece in which other women spoke of their own dealings with Carmona.

“The first thing that everybody said, I don’t mean everybody but a lot of people said, is of course that she was lying and that it was politically motivated. Which, of course, makes talking about sexism and sexual harassment within the campaign world very, very difficult because that’s the first thing that everybody is going to say - that everything you’re saying is politically motivated,” Flores said.

The former assemblywoman said that is why it can be much more difficult to address sexual harassment and sexism in general in the political world. Especially since sexism, itself, isn't illegal.

"I think this is a wonderful thing that's occurring now... that we are having this conversation about what is the difference between sexism, what is the difference between sexual harassment, what's the difference between sexual assault."

That is why she believes it is up to everyone to be part of the solution by addressing sexism and sexual harassment in their everyday lives. She believes men and women need to speak up and support each other when they see something inappropriate or hear so-called 'locker room talk.'

Former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)