Despite an outside investigation that found he inappropriately texted and “drunk dialed” state House employees and created an “offensive, intimidating work environment," State Representative David Sawyer (D-Tacoma) is running for reelection.
Several of the state's most prominent progressive groups are trying to make sure he loses, and they have the help of some of the women who accused Sawyer of acting inappropriately.
A new political action committee called South Sound Women’s Leadership has now raised $68,000 to fund ads against Sawyer. The PAC has received funding from unions and Planned Parenthood, and its ads feature women who say they experienced Sawyer's behavior first-hand. The chair of the PAC is Jessica Gavre, who previously worked as a legislative aide for another state representative and told reporters earlier this year Sawyer would text her late at night asking to get drinks making her feel "uncomfortable and embarrassed."
"David Sawyer should be held accountable for the way that he's treated women," Gavre says in a new ad paid for by the PAC. "David Sawyer shouldn't be in the legislature."
Gavre was one of eight women who told The News Tribune, The Olympian, and the Northwest News Network that Sawyer engaged in inappropriate behavior or harassment. Others described repeated texting and comments about their bodies or clothing. A lobbyist said Sawyer would message her multiple times a day commenting on her appearance and once invited her to an event as "arm candy." Sawyer described his actions as friendly and denied that his behavior was inappropriate, according to the news outlets.
In June, the legislature released the findings of an investigation by an outside lawyer who found Sawyer acted inappropriately and used state resources on personal business. The report did not name women or specify the content of Sawyer’s messages. Regarding his treatment of one of the women, the findings said, "both his conduct and his intentions were sexual in nature."
“He used his position over her, and her job responsibility of coordinating and managing her Representative’s calendar, to force her to respond to him,” the report said.
Sawyer also repeatedly talked to two other women about his "frustration" regarding the News Tribune story and his response, sometimes contacting one of them after hours. Sawyer "used [one of the women's] time to retell his political dating history," the investigative report says. That behavior violated policy on personal use of state resources, the investigator wrote.
The findings also stated that Sawyer created an “offensive” work environment toward one employee because of her gender and another because of her sexual orientation. After the findings of the investigation were released, Sawyer said it a statement that it was "clear that I messed up and that it's time for me to acknowledge some personal mistakes,” The News Tribune reported.
Several of the state's most prominent progressive groups, including Planned Parenthood, Fuse, and SEIU 775 have called on Sawyer not to seek reelection. Seventeen regional lawmakers made a similar call.
Now, the South Sound Women’s Leadership PAC has launched a website—sawyerfacts.com—and spent about $71,000 on the site, digital ads, and mailers against Sawyer. The site includes videos from three women who describe inappropriate behavior. An ad features each of them alongside excerpts from media coverage and the investigation.
Most of the PAC's funding has come from the union-funded groups and Planned Parenthood. Several SEIU locals are major contributors. In a statement, Treasure Mackley, political director at Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said, "We have called on Rep. Sawyer to step down, but he didn’t listen. Women and progressive organizations are coming together and calling on voters to take action and ensure equality in the workplace.”
Sawyer has three primary election opponents, two Republicans and one Democrat. The other Democrat, Melanie Morgan, has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, unions including SEIU locals and UFCW 21, and 19 state lawmakers. Sawyer lists one state representative who has endorsed him: his seatmate Democrat Steve Kirby.
Morgan has raised about $35,000 to Sawyer's $91,000. The Republicans have raised less than $5,000 each.
Sawyer’s campaign did not respond to an email or call seeking comment.