If you were to ask me where I was five years ago, it would have been a simple answer: I was in my house, not working, sick and sleeping to recover.
You see, in January of 2013, I had accepted a job offer at the Iowa Senate Republican Caucus, and to be honest, I had expected it to be my dream job - such naivety.
I was working with state senators in both the commerce and economic development committees, and initially, I was very happy in my role, working on bills and learning the legislative process.
But my job took a significantly sharp turn. One of my colleagues was fired for calling out her superiors about the prolific boys' club environment. She then in turn, and rightly so, filed a lawsuit against them and the state for their retaliation tactics. It would ultimately cost the state over $1 million in settlements for their hubris and continuation of a toxic work environment.
From there, summer of 2013 was spent watching the uppers pretend that everything was squeaky clean for the attorney general's staff. Our caucus staff also had to endure interviews by the attorney general's staff to determine if they should recommend depositions, settlements, or trial.
My story began and ended quickly. After all the interviews and fear of depositions and trials, one of the caucus staff members, who thought that none of the rules regarding harassment would ever have to apply to him, approached me with some inappropriate conversation. Two of my male colleagues also heard what was said, and they supported my decision to go to the Senate Minority Leader for help. Unfortunately, the Senate Minority Leader at that time refused to listen. I never once heard from him, and I only heard from my direct supervisor, who brushed off my concerns quickly. By then, the stress was overwhelming on my body, and physically I had many adverse affects - panic attacks, rashes, etc.
It came to the point that my therapist, doctor, and husband all agreed that my health was so deeply affected by the job, the toxic work environment, and the boys' club, that I needed to quit. After providing a two weeks' notice, they told me to leave ASAP, so I did.
From there I had one final struggle: filing for unemployment. My direct supervisor contested my application, and the conference call with the Iowa Workforce adjudicator was shocking. Lie after lie was told about my work, my health, and my departure. Thankfully, I had evidence to support my departure for health reasons, and I was granted unemployment.
So there I was in Fall 2013, sick, taking in unemployment, and trying to heal. I spent most of September and October of that year sleeping. If I was able to unload the dishwasher in a given day, that was a win for me.
But thankfully, I had a few things going my way. I had the support and care of my husband, I had the support of my family, I had faith that God was going to heal me and find good use of this experience for me, and I had music.
So over the past five years, I've had the burden of my experience on my heart, but wasn't sure what to do. Do I file a lawsuit? Do I go public with my story? Do I do nothing? With all the confusion and questions, I simply waited, prayed, and continued to heal myself. So I had a quiet 3 or so years of getting back to work, taking care of myself, praying, and bringing more music back into my life.
It wasn't until a year ago that things took an unexpected turn for action. The Senate Minority Leader, now Senate Majority Leader, over Thanksgiving 2017, submitted a report to the public to claim that there were no allegations of harassment from the time my colleague was fired in 2013 to that present time. This report was submitted after my colleague won her lawsuit in July of 2017. I was furious. I wanted to go public then and take that guy down. However, I didn't have a lot of credibility going my way for public review. The only things I had were the win from Iowa Workforce and my colleague's win against the state. I had to wait and discern the next steps.
Over the Christmas holidays 2017, I spent most of December in my hometown of Sioux City, watching my grandfather slip away from this life. I made 4 trips to Sioux City in 16 days, and it gave me a lot of time to think and reflect on, well, everything.
I realized that, although my desire to seek justice was a noble cause, it was far more noble to find a solution that provided the state of Iowa with positive change, not another negative take down of politicians.
That is when the idea of a proclamation came up. I met with the governor in Spring 2018 to suggest this idea to her, and she, of course, was not only sympathetic to my story, but believed that this was a good thing to do for the state.
I can now say with full confidence that although the Iowa Senate failed me grievously and took away my opportunity for what I had wanted to be my dream job, Governor Kim Reynolds has not failed me. For that, I am proud to call her my governor and my friend.
So here we are in October, celebrating the Change of Culture month in this great state. The governor has taken a significant step of leadership on this cause to ensure that every human being working in either the public or private sector is treated with respect and dignity, and now I hope that the Iowa House and Iowa Senate leaders will follow her lead and continue to execute proper procedures inside the statehouse. I also hope this encourages private companies to follow the governor's lead and encourage their human resources departments to have the tools they need to subdue and eliminate harassment in the workplace.
Though I am so thankful for this day and the freedom it has given me from the past five years, this proclamation is not the end of my goals. I will continue to work with the governor on this yearly event, and encourage our legislators to take a stand with the governor. Not only that, I am hoping to employ some ways to integrate music for those who have suffered harassment in the workplace at some point in the future.
Before I close, I must say that none of these things would have turned from evil to good, unless the Lord worked mightily in, with, and through this situation.
So for now, I will continue to enjoy giving piano lessons, praying and hoping that my students, Iowa's future, are given greater opportunities than I have had and are far more protected that I ever was at the State Capitol.
**Special thanks to friends Denise, Daniel, Kim, Tom, my mom, and my husband for coming out today!**
Whereas, throughout history, sexual harassment has been a stain on our culture. It is a destructive force in the workplace and in all facets of life; and
Whereas, women have found the courage to speak out during this unprecedented moment in time; and
Whereas, sexual harassment is not a partisan issue. It cannot be fixed by legislation or rule-making alone; and
Whereas, the solution starts with every individual. It is about showing common respect to others. It also is about character and decency; and
Whereas, we cannot change behavior everywhere. But, in Iowa, we have an obligation to lead and serve as a role model for other states to follow; and Whereas, what we do in Iowa matters. We must ensure justice and fairness prevails; and Whereas, we must change the culture once and for all.
Now, therefore, I, Kim Reynolds, Governor of Iowa, do hereby proclaim the month of October as
CHANGE THE CULTURE MONTH
In the State of Iowa.