Former state Senator violated harassment policy, report finds

Feb 1, 2019

Former Washington state Sen. Kevin Ranker, an Orcas Island Democrat, violated Senate harassment policy in his treatment of a female subordinate during the 2010 legislative session, according to an investigative report released Friday.

The report also concluded that after that employee, Ann Larson, complained of Ranker’s conduct and went to work for another state agency, Ranker's “abrasive and aggressive” treatment of her interfered with her ability to do her work. However, the investigation did not find that Ranker retaliated against Larson, as she had alleged.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Ranker said he recognized the impacts of his actions. "I have always tried to be respectful of the people around me when I advocate for important issues," Ranker wrote. "I have not always succeeded."

The Secretary of the Senate released the 10-page report by Tara Parker of the Ogden, Murphy, Wallace law firm in Seattle after both Ranker and Larson were given an opportunity to appeal the findings. Neither did. Larson is not named in the report, but she has previously spoken publicly about her allegations against Ranker.

Ranker resigned from the Washington Senate in early January, just before the start of the 2019 session, as the investigation was concluding. In a statement to supporters at the time, he acknowledged Larson’s allegations against him. “I am deeply sorry for any stress I caused her and I sincerely apologize,” Ranker wrote. Previously, he had expressed confidence that would be “exonerated from these allegations.”

In his statement Friday, Ranker said "men in power must recognize our privilege and most importantly, the impacts of our actions ... regardless of intent." He went on to say that he resigned his seat to "spare my family further negative impacts." 

Ranker served in the Washington Senate for a decade and often played a high-profile role on key environmental initiatives. In November, Ranker was tapped to chair a new Senate committee focused on orca recovery. He stepped down from that role while under investigation.

In a December email to the Northwest News Network and in interviews with the investigator, Ranker acknowledged having had a brief, consensual affair with Larson in 2008 when he was a San Juan County commissioner and she was clerk to the commission.

"I exercised extremely poor judgment, recognized my mistake and ultimately reconciled with my wife," Ranker told the Northwest News Network in his December email. 

In 2009, after Ranker has been elected to the state Senate, he hired Larson as his legislative assistant. During the 2010 legislative session, Larson worked with Ranker in his office in Olympia. It was during this time that she alleged his behavior was unprofessional. According to Larson, Ranker rubbed her shoulders, offered her wine and made flirtatious comments. Larson said when she rebuffed him, Ranker responded by treating her disrespectfully and increasing her work load.

In interviews with the investigator, Ranker denied making sexual overtures toward Larson. However, according to the report, he acknowledged “that their office dynamic was occasionally flirtatious and unprofessional.”

“[Ranker] conceded that the dynamic between them was, at times, inappropriate due to their prior relationship and he acknowledged that her allegations that he violated the Senate’s policy prohibiting harassment were founded,” Parker wrote in her report.

In his statement Friday, Ranker said of his treatment of Larson: "Did I treat her in a way that was different than others as a result of our previous relationship? Likely yes. But that does not make my actions acceptable."

Larson first reported Ranker’s conduct to Senate administrators in 2010. According to the investigative report, Larson has long maintained that she reported that Ranker had sexually harassed her and “the Senate did nothing.”

However, Senate administrators from that time told Parker that while they suspected sexual harassment, Larson never specifically alleged that. Instead, they said she accused Ranker of angry outbursts and slamming doors. Ranker told Parker that he admitted at the time to “yelling once and slamming a door once, and that he was apologetic.” Ranker said he was never told that the complaint involved an allegation of sexual harassment.

Parker was unable to locate records of the 2010 complaint and was told the Senate was "not in the practice of keeping such records at that time."

Ultimately, Parker wrote, Larson "conceded that she probably did not specifically tell [Senate administrators] she felt sexually harassed in 2010" out fear for how such a complaint would be handled. In her report, Parker concluded the Senate “properly handled” Larson’s complaint in 2010.

The Senate decided to re-examine the allegations last fall after Larson, who is currently the director of government relations for the Washington Department of Enterprise Services, told the governor’s office that she was planning to speak to a reporter about her experiences with Ranker. On October 18, the Secretary of the Senate learned of the allegations and made the decision to hire an outside firm to investigate.

In addition to interviewing Ranker and Larson multiple times, Parker also interviewed 43 witnesses over the course of the nearly three-month investigation. While Ranker initially denied the allegations of misconduct against him, Parker wrote that by the end of the investigation he “responded with profound regret and acknowledged that her allegations of general misconduct were founded.”

In a statement, Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson said he “fully endorse[s]” Parker’s findings, but would not recommend disciplinary action because Ranker previously resigned from the Senate.

“I hope that by my actions other victims feel safe to come forward and confident that their voices will be heard," Larson said in a text message. 

In his statement, Ranker said he "will remain a passionate champion for our progressive agenda, but with more awareness and mindfulness than I had before." His replacement to the Washington Senate has not yet been named.