Utah Democrats call for Sen. Gene Davis to step down

Aug 13, 2022, 4:10 PM
Senate Minority Caucus Manager Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, speaks at a press conference outlining...
Senate Minority Caucus Manager Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, speaks at a press conference outlining the Democrats’ legislative priorities for the year at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Day 3 of the Utah legislative session, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP) — A week and a half after a former intern publicly accused state Sen. Gene Davis of sexual misconduct, the Utah Democratic Party is suspending the longtime lawmaker from party-related activities at all levels and has called for him to step down from the Utah Legislature.

The decision, announced in a statement issued late Friday night, comes after the allegation exposed a rift in the party over its handling of sexual harassment. In prior statements, the party’s stance was that it couldn’t take action unless it received an official complaint.

“Following Ms. Weglinski’s statement last week, party leaders and members of the Executive Committee spoke privately with Senator Davis,” Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Thom DeSirant wrote in the statement. “Though he denied specifics of the allegations in his interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, we believe the behavior he acknowledged, regardless of context or intent, was unacceptable. We requested he voluntarily step down.”

University of Utah student Sonia Weglinski, a former intern who also worked on the senator’s reelection campaign this spring, said in an Aug. 3 Instagram post that Davis touched her in ways that made her feel uncomfortable on multiple occasions during the five months she worked with him.

Before resigning from Davis’s reelection campaign in June, she detailed her allegations to Davis’ campaign manager, former Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chair Richard Jaramillo, and in a letter to the senator. In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune last week, Weglinski said she did not submit a formal complaint to the Utah Democratic Party because of how it has handled sexual harassment investigations in the past, and because she didn’t want her story to be “filtered through” the party.

Davis told The Tribune that he was “flabbergasted” by the allegations, but confirmed at least one of the incidents Weglinski described in the Instagram post. A phone call and an email sent to Davis on Friday night were not immediately returned.

Sen. Gene Davis suspended on sexual harassment claims

Weglinski is the second woman to publicly accuse Davis of sexual misconduct. In a 2021 Facebook post, former legislative staffer Elizabeth Converse alleged that the senator behaved inappropriately toward her when she worked at the Utah Capitol and while they were on a work trip in Chicago.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams announced on Aug. 5 that the Utah Senate had initiated an independent investigation into the allegations. The Senate minority leader, Sen. Karen Mayne, did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the Utah Democratic Party’s Friday announcement.

Davis was defeated by Nate Blouin in the Democratic primaries earlier this year, but he will retain his seat in the Legislature until January. He currently sits on numerous committees in the Senate, including interim committees that are scheduled to meet next week.

The Utah Democratic Party’s statement comes two days after dozens of Democrats signed a letter addressed to the party’s executive committee calling for Davis’ suspension, as well as requesting a central committee meeting to address the allegations.

“Though the Party has a stated duty to take swift and decisive action in cases of misconduct, our leaders have failed to take any substantive measures regarding the allegations; the State Executive Committee refuses to do more than refer to prepared talking points,” the letter reads. “It is an unacceptable failure of leadership that such a serious allegation of sexual harassment has been allowed to remain all but ignored.”

Eight county party chairs signed the letter, along with 47 other Democratic leaders, public officials and candidates. After its publication, according to Utah County Democratic Party Chair Katie Adams-Anderton, 42 more added their names, making the total 97.

“This is not a step we take lightly. Members of the Executive Committee have spent the week following Ms Weglinski’s public statement debating the appropriate course of action,” reads DeSirant’s statement. “We’ve tried to balance our belief that everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, our commitment to the deliberative steps and due process our governing documents require, and our obligation to ensure that every member of our party – at every level – is treated with the respect and dignity they are entitled in a space that is free from harassment or discrimination.”

However, Utah Democratic leaders found themselves “faced with multiple credible allegations of misconduct” against Senator Davis, which calls for action, continues DeSirant statement.

KSL-TV added more statements from Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Thom DeSirant in this article. 

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Utah Democrats call for Sen. Gene Davis to step down