It’s common in politics

Former lieutenant governor Sue Wagner at a meeting of the Nevada Women’s Lobby.

Former lieutenant governor Sue Wagner at a meeting of the Nevada Women’s Lobby.


About three decades ago, a Nevada Legislature secretary opened the door to her assemblymember’s inner office, walked in, and gasped.

The legislator was standing behind his intern, who was leaning against the desk. They were having sex.

The story raced around the building at the speed of sound.

On another occasion, a legislative intern who rebuffed the advances of her legislator was in danger of being dropped from the intern program after the legislator complained about her. Legislative internships in Nevada are a college course, and she would not only have lost the internship but the college credit as well. Fortunately, Assm. Robert Price, a Clark County Democrat, stepped in and asked that the intern be switched to him. To this day, she speaks of him with admiration.

All of this was part and parcel of a notion that women could be treated differently in the legislative building. At one legislative session, women employees expressed the desire to wear pants to work. It was the dead of winter. Permission was denied.

At the Nevada Legislature in 2003, the behavior of Assm. Mark Manendo became a public issue. Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins asked staff director Lorne Malkiewich to investigate sexual harassment charges against Manendo. It was not the greatest way to go about an investigation. Legislative staffers have few of the job protections state agency employees enjoy. Legislative workers walk on eggshells constantly in concern over whether they may offend the wrong legislator.

In the 2003 case, Manendo was accused by an intern to Assm. Dawn Gibbons of using vulgar, threatening language to her. Gibbons herself supported that account, saying that Manendo asked her to help him arrange to date the intern. When Gibbons refused, she said Manendo threatened to hold up one of her pieces of legislation.

Manendo denied the accusations but refused to discuss the charges. “You have my statement,” he said. “Now leave me alone.”

Manendo survived that probe, in which a second intern was also questioned by Malkiewich. But last year, Manendo—by then a state senator—resigned from the legislature after the finding of a law firm hired to investigate again. The firm issued this conclusion: “The investigator concluded that Senator Manendo violated the legislature’s anti-harassment policy; had engaged in multiple and repeated instances of inappropriate, offensive, and unacceptable behavior towards female staffers and lobbyists; and had attempted to interfere with the subsequent investigation into his conduct.”

The statement said the probe turned up “at least 14 incidents of inappropriate conduct during the 2017 legislative session, as well as instances of misconduct from prior sessions.”

Second thoughts

The fact that the Manendo problem all but disappeared from the public’s radar for more than a decade, allowing him to move from the Assembly to the Senate, now troubles some women, who wonder whether they let the matter die too easily.

Former lieutenant governor and gambling regulator Sue Wagner said last week, “I know it goes on in Carson City. … regardless of the age of the male senator and the intern or the staffer … because I know of particular incidents in Carson City that I am not going to disclose but made [me] very aware of tragedies that occurred.”

Lobbyists, meanwhile, had interns of their own to look out for as well as commercial clients to protect.

“Were some of us just as guilty here in Nevada about Mark Manendo?” one of them asked in a reference to movie producer Harvey Weinstein. “While I took care of the problem directly with him and did inform [legislative leaders], most of us protected our interns and warned all females in the building. So many don’t want to ’rock the boat’ and get embroiled in a very public fight with a legislator or someone who has the power that Weinstein did. He also used his wealth and power to quiet women and settle. What woman wants her life investigated, no matter your star power or prominence?”

Both Wagner and the lobbyist used a term that suggests they hope the time has passed when harassers could count on discomfort and short memories.

“I think that hopefully this is a tipping point where now women will not tolerate [sexual harassment], and men will understand that they should not do it,” Wagner said. “I don’t know. I’m hopeful.”

“It made [me] think that perhaps the advent of Trump and his arrogance and lies about women may have been the tipping point,” the lobbyist said. “It spawned the Women’s March and grassroots organizing like I have never seen before. Maybe the confluence of events and an absolute boiling point for how women have been treated, and what many have endured for years, emboldened the lesser knowns to come forward?”

Wagner also said she thought public figures have a role that they should handle responsibly. She pointed to former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman as a poor role model.

“I keep thinking of Oscar Goodman hauling around those two showgirls with his martini and promoting Las Vegas when he was mayor,” she said. “Even when he’s not mayor, when his wife [is] mayor, he was still out gallivanting around, hauling those two—always had two, one on each side.”

A Google image search turned up hundreds of photos of Goodman flanked by two show “girls,” frequently with a cocktail glass in hand.