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Ex-speaker of the House: Windy Boy cause of new anti-harassment policies

Report leading to new rules in Legislature was on Box Elder rep's texts

 

February 22, 2019

Staff and wire

A former speaker of the House of Representatives said today that Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder is the subject of an investigation that concluded he sent unwelcome text messages to a female lawmaker and recommended that legislative leaders take action before the situation repeats itself and led to the Legislature adopting new anti-harassment policies, The Associated Press reported today.

Former speaker Austin Knudsen said Windy Boy voluntarily resigned as chairman of the State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee last year before he could strip Windy Boy of the position as punishment, AP reported.

Windy Boy had not responded by 1:30 p.m. today to a call and email from the Havre Daily News sent at 12:55. His cell number went to voice mail, with a message saying the voice mail was full and could not accept new messages.

Windy Boy, a former member of the Chippewa Cree Business Committee at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, lost a bid last fall to be re-elected to the committee.

Windy Boy defeated Republican G. Bruce Meyers in November's race for the House seat, retaining the seat with 2,234 votes to Meyers' 1,351.

Legislative Legal Services released a copy of the March 2018 investigative report by Great Falls attorney Jean Faure to The Associated Press that blacked out the names of the lawmakers and witnesses, AP reported.

The report obtained by The Associated Press through a public-records request prompted initially reluctant lawmakers to advance a new policy approved this month that created a confidential system to report and investigate harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims.

Knudsen, a Culbertson Republican, confirmed to the AP that Windy Boy was the legislator named in the report and that he and other legislative leaders from both parties discussed how they should discipline Windy Boy.

"There was discussion about taking harsher action, but legally nobody had any authority to do anything," said Knudsen, who is no longer in the Legislature. "We couldn't remove him from office, we couldn't censure him because we weren't in session. I, as speaker of the House, had the authority to remove him (as committee chairman)."

Democratic legislative leaders requested to be allowed to speak to Windy Boy before any disciplinary action was taken, Knudsen said. Windy Boy resigned as chairman of the State-Tribal Relations Committee shortly after that, Knudsen said.

A legislative newsletter from April 2018 said Windy Boy resigned from the committee "due to work-related commitments."

Windy Boy declined to comment before the House floor session today. He referred questions to his attorney.

The investigative report by Faure blacked out the names of the lawmakers and witnesses, citing privacy interests, but detailed most of the text messages sent to the female lawmaker between mid-August and October 2017.

The texts sent between August and October 2017 called the recipient "gorgeous," and "A wonderful sight for My Sore Eyes."

In one exchange the complainant was concerned about overstepping boundaries in resolving an issue. The offender responded: "Well. Just know, between you and me. You can step all over me and there is no boundaries."

Windy Boy represents House District 32, which runs from the northeast corner of Chouteau County through southern Hill, Blaine and Phillips counties and includes Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap Indian Reservations.

He was first elected to the House in 2002, serving in the 2003, 2005 and 2007 legislative sessions, then was elected to two terms representing a Senate district that included the Fort Peck as well as the Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap Indian reservations.

After terming out in the Senate, Windy Boy again ran for the House, winning in 2016 and 2018.

The report stated the offender was "in a position of influence and power."

"The offensive conduct is subtle but evident," Faure wrote. "A pattern of these behaviors appears established."

The investigator wrote that the situation was likely to repeat itself and recommended legislative leadership take action. Faure recommended a written warning and training "at a minimum."

The AP requested the report after current and former legislative leaders revealed earlier this month that a revamped anti-harassment policy for the Legislature had advanced because of a previously undisclosed harassment allegation.

Earlier this month, the Legislature passed the new policy on reporting and investigating harassment, discrimination and retaliation involving lawmakers and legislative employees. It allows for confidential reporting and investigation of claims and sets penalties for violators.

Knudsen said the investigation's results showed him the need for the new policy.

"That certainly turned my vote around," he said.

Jenny Eck, a former lawmaker who was the leader of the House Democrats until last year and who co-authored the new harassment policy, said legislative attorneys advised her not to comment.

The victim made the complaint against Windy Boy in January 2018 after reading a news article about sexual harassment in the Legislature, Faure's report said. Either the victim or another person sent the offender a message on Jan. 9, 2018, that the past text messages were inappropriate and should "cease and desist," the report said.

The offender responded with an apology and said that if the "behavior came across as inappropriate, it would never happen again."

Faure's report also indicated the offender sent text messages to a legislative staffer in January and February 2017 which said: "You looked beautiful yesterday" and another that said: "BTW you look gorgeous today." The staffer apparently mentioned the text messages to someone and was told to "steer clear" of that lawmaker.

Any further text messages from the lawmaker to the staffer "were strictly professional," the report said.

 

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