In an open letter published on Tuesday, the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington (NWPC-WA) and some sexual assault organizations called on former State Senator Joe Fain to resign from his position on Washington's five-person redistricting commission, which is charged with the politically fraught task of redrawing the state's Congressional and Legislative District lines to account for population changes.
In the letter, the NWPC-WA, a group who recruits and trains women across the political spectrum to run for office, suggested that the lack of a "proper investigation" into a 2018 rape allegation against Fain raises questions about the public's ability to trust him "to respect our state laws, our societal norms and values, and the boundaries of individuals—especially those related to sexual assault and consent."
Failing a resignation, the group demanded the commission adopt the State Legislature’s code of conduct, impose restrictions on his access to staff and to his colleagues, and require a "third-party" staffer to surveil all of his communications going in and out of the commission.
The letter's first signatories include Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs director Susan Marks, Sexual Violence Law Center director Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington director Kia Guarino, and Washington State Democrat chair Tina Podlodowski, among others.
During Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in 2018, Seattle civic technology advocate Candace Faber accused Fain of raping her in a D.C. hotel room in 2007. Fain denied the accusation. A Senate committee initially voted to hire a third-party investigator to look into the case, but a couple months later GOP Senators pulled their support and killed the investigation.
Fain lost his reelection campaign in 2018 to Sen. Mona Das, but he was later picked to run the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. This year Senate minority leader John Braun appointed him to represent GOP interests on WA’s redistricting commission.
NWPC-WA spokesperson Amanda Reykdal said Fain's appointment "sets a damaging precedent for survivors of sexual assault as it implies their allegations will not be taken seriously and it steals them of their right to due process."
"The appointment of Commissioner Fain undermines the role of these types of lauded positions in society, and we’re disappointed that Senate Republican Leader Braun could not choose any other individual that does not have unanswered sexual assault charges against them," Reykdal added.
In a statement, Sen. Braun called the letter "a political attack that plays to an irresponsible narrative in the media." He and the Republican caucus maintain the "utmost confidence in former Senator Joe Fain" and will not "remove him from the Redistricting Commission nor ask him to resign," Braun added. He also said Fain will have "full access to the staff necessary to fulfill his duties on the commission."
In a joint statement, Grist CEO Brady Walkinshaw and Washington State Labor Council secretary-treasurer April Sims—the two people Democrats appointed to the commission—said they "share the concerns set out in the letter and we’ll seek measures to improve safety and provide accountability."
They added that they believe Fain's resignation would be "the best outcome...given the seriousness of the allegations, the absence of an investigation, and the impacts this could have on public participation." But "at the very least," they'll "continue to work with the Commission to evaluate whether and how the issues brought forward compromise Fmr Senator Fain’s ability to fully participate in the work of the Redistricting Commission and jeopardize transparent and accessible public engagement."
Fain didn't respond to a request for comment.
At a press conference on Tuesday, in response to a question NW News Network's Austin Jenkins asked about the letter, Sen. Ann Rivers said she was "embarrassed that this even came up at this media avail." She added that "continuing to push this narrative" by asking questions about Fain was "irresponsible journalism."
Crosscut's Melissa Santos asked a follow-up question about why the GOP picked Fain, which prompted Sen. Rivers to again step in and accuse everyone of doing bad journalism.
To support her claim that Faber's decision to step forward with a rape allegation constituted mere "campaign politics," Rivers falsely suggested that "the alleged victim refused to have the alleged crime investigated." In reality, that fall Faber said she would "welcome" an investigation. She also said she had no interest in pressing charges against Fain, but she was "interested in some sort of path forward that leads to healing for me and for him and for anyone else touched by this issue. Because we can't jail them all."
This year's Sen. Rivers sounds like she should take a meeting with 2017's Sen. Rivers, who sponsored a sexual assault survivor bill of rights in the Legislature. The legislation specifically allows for a sexual assault survivor to retain "all the enumerated rights regardless of whether the survivor agrees to participate in the criminal justice system at any time and regardless of whether the survivor agrees to receive a forensic or medical evidentiary examination to collect sexual assault forensic evidence." Fain co-sponsored the bill.
In any event, when Rivers finally got around to the relevant part of her answer, she said Republican Senators "put in many names" for the position but ultimately "selected Sen. Fain as a caucus to represent us."
She added that the Republicans "don't feel it's necessary for us to restrict whom he works with in achieving the task that has been laid out before him."