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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Ex-Wife, Former High School Student Of GOP Lawmaker Now Calls Relationship 'Inappropriate'

Walker Orenstein
The News Tribune
OraLynn Reeve, the ex-wife of Matt Manweller, standing in her Duvall, Washington, home. Manweller is now a state representative from Ellensburg.

The ex-wife of Matt Manweller contends the embattled GOP state representative leveraged his age and status as her former high school teacher to marry her when she was 18.

In an interview with The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network on Friday, OraLynn Reeve spoke at length about her courtship and marriage to Manweller, who has been investigated for allegations of inappropriate interactions with students at Central Washington University, where he teaches political science.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was co-reported by Austin Jenkins and Walker Orenstein. The audio story was produced by Austin Jenkins. The web story was written by Walker Orenstein and is published with permission from The New Tribune and The Olympian.

“My truth, my story, is that I had a man that’s 12 years older than me, as a teacher in a position of power, take advantage of me, groom me to be a trophy wife and prey on my insecurities,” Reeve said.

Credit Courtesy of OraLynn Reeve
OraLynn Reeve, then 18, on her wedding day at a Boise courthouse in June of 2000. She married Matt Manweller, who was 30 at the time. Manweller is now a Republican state representative in Washington state. The two later held a more formal ceremony in August of 2000.

Nothing illegal happened between them, Reeve said. But she said Manweller sometimes appeared to be flirting with her as a 16-year-old in 1998 when she was the student manager of the boys’ soccer team he coached in Hurricane, Utah.

Reeve said she was 18 but hadn’t graduated when they began dating and quickly got engaged roughly two years after Manweller left the school. She said she believes it was “inappropriate” for them to get married given the circumstances. Manweller was 30.

Addressing Reeve’s allegations in an interview Saturday, Manweller said he hadn’t heard her voice those concerns in the 17 years since they got married and is “sad that she views our relationship in a much more negative way than I do.” 

He said it was a “perfectly legal relationship” and that he loved Reeve very much. He also said Reeve first sought him out after he left Hurricane.

“It was never abusive and there was never anything that was inappropriate, either in our dating time or our marriage time,” Manweller said.

Reeve is speaking out after allegations have resurfaced that Manweller, 48, pursued romantic relationships with students at Central Washington. 

The university has investigated him twice for allegations he sexually harassed female students, mainly in the mid-2000s.

The most recent investigation came in 2013 and included an allegation Manweller propositioned two students for a threesome at a bar in Ellensburg. The report was first made public by the Seattle Times on Wednesday.

The university ultimately never determined the allegations to be substantiated, but investigators concluded there was evidence Manweller sexually harassed students. School officials formally reprimanded him at least once, saying he had problems maintaining boundaries with students.

Manweller denies the accusations in the CWU reports. He said he was never disciplined, was later promoted to full professor and also won $15,000 in attorneys fees and other concessions from the school in a settlement related to the investigations.

Beginnings of a relationship

Reeve, now 36, first moved to Utah in January of 1998. Her dad lost his job in Boise, so they relocated to the town of Hurricane, where her grandparents owned a ranch.

Credit Courtesy of OraLynn Reeve
OraLynn Reeve and Matt Manweller on their impromptu wedding day at a Boise courthouse in June of 2000. The two later held a more formal ceremony in August of 2000. She was 18 and he was 30. Manweller is now a Republican state representative in Washington state.

Meeting new friends in the 7,000-person town was a challenge, Reeve said. Adding to the loneliness, none of Reeve’s five older siblings moved to Utah with her.

Reeve said she and Manweller quickly struck up a friendship. They were both “outsiders” who had common roots in Boise, she said. According to Reeve, Manweller “felt ostracized’ because he wasn’t Mormon, unlike most people in Hurricane, and because he had just moved to Utah for the teaching gig in 1997.

In the spring of 1998, Manweller asked Reeve to manage the boys’ varsity soccer team he coached. The pair connected during the season, often talking while sitting together on the bus to and from games.

Reeve said they made friendly conversation that wasn’t “overtly sexual.” She said she sees the bus rides in a different light now.

“Looking back, I realize he was flirting with me,” Reeve said. “But I was naive at the time and did not realize it.” Manweller denies this. 

They kept in occasional touch after that school year, Reeve said.

Manweller left Hurricane to study in Montana and later in Oregon, but the two met up in Boise while both were visiting family over a holiday break. They spent an afternoon playing laser tag and walking around downtown, Reeve said. When they walked back to Reeve’s car, Manweller kissed her.

Reeve said she was “shocked” but flattered. She said the encounter was around Christmas 1998 when she was 17. Manweller insists it was the following year when she was an 18-year-old senior and he was 30.

“We never had a relationship, physical or romantic, until after she was 18, and I never had a relationship with her in any way while I was her teacher,” he said. “So there was no misuse of power and we were both adults.”

In the early months of 2000, when Reeve was 18, the two carried on a long-distance relationship through email and phone calls, Reeve said.

They only saw each other in person once more before getting engaged, according to Reeve. She took a weekend trip with friends to Eugene for an audition to the vocal program at the University of Oregon, where Manweller had been studying for his Ph.D, Reeve said.

Reeve, her mom and a close childhood friend told The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network the couple got engaged in roughly March 2000. Manweller insists he proposed shortly after Reeve graduated from Hurricane in May.

Credit Courtesy of OraLynn Reeve
Pictures from the August 2000 wedding ceremony of Matt Manweller and OraLynn Reeve. She was 18 and he was 30. The two had married in June at a Boise courthouse but later held a more formal event. Manweller is now a Republican state representative from Ellensburg.

Their brief courtship wasn’t an issue for Reeve at the time, who said she was happy and excited to be engaged. Now, she said she sees it as a “red flag.”

“I really didn’t know him that well,” she said.

From there, Reeve clashed with her family. Manweller had three strikes against him: He wasn’t Mormon; he was her former teacher; and he was 12 years older than her.

Reeve and Manweller disagree about what happened next.

Reeve said her family convinced her to break off the engagement, so she drove to Oregon with her sister and collected things she left at Manweller’s apartment before returning to Boise to tell Manweller the marriage was off. They had both been living in the city for the summer of 2000.

After finding Manweller on a golf course to tell him the news, Reeve said he convinced her to stick with him.

As Manweller tells it, Reeve came to find him after her family tried to break them up and ship her away to another state.

“The very next day we went to a judge in Boise and got married,” Reeve said.

Reeve said she was happy about the wedding in 2000. Now she thinks the marriage was wrong.

“I was not in a place to make those kinds of decisions,” she said. “I was not truly an adult, mentally.”

A tumultuous marriage and divorce

Reeve and Manweller moved to Ellensburg from Eugene in 2003 when he was hired at CWU. Reeve got an engineering degree at the university and later went to work at an aerospace firm in Yakima.

She said there were some happy times. Reeve said she was unaware of the sexual harassment allegations against Manweller from 2006 until local papers reported on some of them in 2012.

But the two had persistent problems. Reeve said Manweller had a temper issue and was controlling about various aspects of her life. Manweller declined to comment on some details of their marriage, saying they had troubles like any other couple.

In 2008, they separated. It was a bitter time. She accused him of threatening and stalking her. Manweller accused her of being unfaithful. Both deny the other’s claims.

The divorce was finalized in 2009, nine years after they married. They had no children together.

Coming forward now

Reeve said over the years people have raised eyebrows at her marriage to Manweller. Her usual response was just to say their relationship was consensual and that she was an adult.

That has been Manweller’s view on the situation.

“Was I much older than her? Yes,” he said. “Immoral? No. Illegal? No.”

Reeve said she began to see the marriage differently after the divorce.

Those thoughts coalesced this week when she read old journal entries she made as a teenager, Reeve said. Those entries reinforced how immature she was at the time she married Manweller, she said.

Reeve said she harbors no “ill will” toward Manweller. The two have had friendly conversations in recent weeks and collaborated recently on how to respond to reporters over the harassment allegations at CWU. Reeve said she generally agrees with Manweller politically. She even asked Manweller to help her nephew secure a letter of recommendation from a member of Congress to attend a U.S. military academy.

But Reeve said if there are any women who believe Manweller wronged them, she hopes they tell their stories publicly.

Reeve had a message for her ex-husband: “What happened between us was inappropriate. You took advantage of me. You preyed on my insecurities and you took away a lot of life experiences.”