Days after Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) insinuated in a press release and a TV interview that Vice President Kamala Harris achieved her political career through the performance of sex acts, leaders of the Oklahoma State Senate are privately considering what consequences may be appropriate.
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) is chiefly tasked with the decision, and he issued a statement Friday calling Dahm’s remarks “misogynistic, disrespectful (and) immature.” On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd (D-OKC) filed a formal complaint, arguing in a letter to Treat that Dahm violated the body’s rule on conduct and ethical standards.
“As far as discipline, I don’t know at this time,” Treat said Monday when asked about the situation by eCapitol‘s Shawn Ashley.
Dahm made his comments during an interview with KTUL’s Tyler Butler, who was asking Dahm what he was insinuating about Harris in a bizarre press release he had issued about banning paper straws on Earth Day.
“With her vast experience and how she got her start into politics, in talking with some people, one thing that could be said is you can’t use a paper straw for a milkshake, but maybe Kamala Harris could because of her vast experience,” Dahm said. “Maybe she would be able to get that accomplished.”
Tuesday, Senate Floor Leader Kim David (R-Porter) said she had “let it stew” over the weekend before speaking about Dahm’s “inappropriate” remarks this week.
“It was extremely disappointing, [as was] the fact that he thought they were a joke. They are not,” David said. “It affects women everywhere. We work hard to get where we are at, and we have all put up with those comments in our professional careers. It’s not funny.”
David said Treat “is definitely handling this internally because that’s how we do things.” She acknowledged that she received her own reprimand in early February for comments impugning the character of her colleagues who oppose third-party managed Medicaid.
“It wasn’t as internal as I would have liked it to be. But because of my role in the Senate and because I am the (floor) leader of the Senate and not just Sen. Kim David, then sometimes I have to watch my P’s and Q’s and think of the body as a whole,” David said. “Of course, Sen. Dahm is not a leader in our caucus. He is not a chairman in the Senate, so whatever the pro tem decides on will have to be a little different, because there is only so much you can do.”
David said she recognizes concern from other women in the State Capitol that Dahm might avoid formal reprimand for his remarks while she was taken off floor leader duties for one week owing to hers.
“We don’t want anyone to believe there is a double standard. I am very careful where I tread here in this part of it because of my role in this to begin with (as) one of the leaders of the caucus and the Senate as a whole,” David said. “I applaud Sen. Treat on taking a very careful approach on this. There will be consequences for the actions of Sen. Dahm. The difference will be that, since he is not in an elevated role in the Senate, they may not be as obvious to everyone.”
Boren: ‘That’s deeply offensive’
Sen. Mary Boren (D-Norman) said she hopes that will be the case.
“Male senators need to be held accountable for misogynistic comments, because it’s not just an offense between Sen. Dahm and the vice president,” Boren said. “It’s an offense between Sen. Dahm and elected women officials in Oklahoma and throughout the nation. That’s where the offense is.”
Boren said Dahm was “insinuating slanderous things,” which she said divides the public.
“I think that women in positions of power always have a different relationship with their dating experiences. Who we dated in our 20s and early 30s is always under a different kind of scrutiny,” Boren said. “I think it’s misogynistic to think that somebody that went through all the steps to become an attorney and become an elected official could only get through those steps by some favoritism from a male. That’s deeply offensive and it’s deeply hurtful, and it really triggers a lot of fears that women have that we can’t make our way through the world unless we appease men along the way.”
A female lobbyist, who offered her opinion on the situation under the condition of anonymity, said many women who work in the State Capitol are watching to see what Senate leadership decides regarding reprimand.
“I think it’s unfair because the female floor leader got in trouble and he hasn’t (so far),” the lobbyist said. “I think there are a lot of other people in the building who feel the same way.”
Dahm: ‘It is what it is’
For his part, Dahm has so far chosen not to make public comments appeasing his colleagues and constituents he offended. On the day of his controversial interview, Dahm noted on Twitter that he had “been assured my jokes are hilarious” and that “your emotional opinions are irrelevant.”
Monday, he told NonDoc that he had participated in “conversations” with fellow senators and others.
“After the fact I’ve heard from all kinds of people. The vast majority has been positive,” he said.
Asked if he regrets his statements about Harris, Dahm said people are taking his remarks out of context.
“I said it in an open-ended way to where it could be perceived in many different ways. Those who are claiming this somehow implicates, (that) is totally false,” Dahm said. “I was specifically talking about one person in particular, not based on her race or gender or anything else, but on her previous actions when I made those comments. So to claim this is about all women, that is not true at all.”
Asked if he would say the same statements again, he answered generally.
“You can always try to think about how you would reconsider different things or do stuff differently,” Dahm said. “But that is neither here nor there. It is what it is.”
David said “it is unfortunate” that Dahm “still thinks it is a joke.”
“I am constantly mentoring young women under me who are professionals, and I have to tell them all of the time that they just have to be really tough because this type of thing goes on all the time,” David said. “These types of jokes go on. Everybody thinks that the only way we get ahead is on our backs or on our knees. It is beyond disgusting, and we really have had enough.”
David said she hopes Dahm will receive “peer pressure” from colleagues.
“[I hope] other members of this body will approach him and voice their concern and let him know that these comments are not appropriate,” David said. “They’ve never been appropriate, and especially in our job, it’s even more inappropriate for him to take that line.”
Senate Democratic Caucus letter
Dear President Pro Tempore Treat:
Last week, a sitting Oklahoma Senator, Nathan Dahm, publicly exhibited behavior which we believe violates RULE 5: CONDUCT AND ETHICAL STANDARDS, Rule 5-1 Legislative Conduct, as found in the Senate Rules and Joint Rules of the Fifty-Eighth Legislature of Oklahoma, 2021-2022.
Therefore, per RULE 5: CONDUCT AND ETHICAL STANDARDS, Rule 5-5.L Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, we are filing this formal complaint.
Kay Floyd, Senate Democratic leader
Kevin Matthews, Senate Democratic Caucus chair