FEBRUARY 01, 2007
The Democratic senator from South Dakota who slept with a teenaged page got the equivalent of a soft pat on the hand from his peers who refused to expel the popular second-term lawmaker for his atrocious behavior.
After spending three days listening to graphic testimony relating to Senator Dan Sutton’s hotel escapades with a teenaged page, South Dakota’s Senate Committee hesitantly issued a mere censure, which is the equivalent of a public reprimand and has no effect on Sutton’s legislative powers.
The 36-year-old lawmaker admits that he shared a hotel bed with the male page at the start of the youth’s weeklong internship in the legislature, but denies anything else happened. The youth, now a 19-year-old college student, says Sutton groped him and touched his genitals through his shorts. At this week’s three-day senate hearing, the young man’s cousin testified that she received a frantic call in which her cousin begged her to pick him up from the hotel and, when she did, “his legs were shaking and his voice was cracking.”
Evidently, most of Sutton’s peers did not consider this behavior worthy of expulsion although one senator in favor of it said that those who believe the victim’s testimony, as he did, must “vote to expel.” Expressing the opinion of the majority, another senator said that the committee concluded that the allegations of unwanted sexual contact were unproven.
Never mind that an elected official shared a bed with a teenaged intern under his supervision. A majority of South Dakota senators feel that behavior is inappropriate though not worthy of expulsion and, since a state lawmaker has never been reprimanded, they felt it was adequate punishment. One Republican senator said this sends a message to the parents of future pages; “senators will only molest them to the point of being censured.”
Another alarming side to this story is the lack of mainstream media coverage. Most major U.S. newspapers buried the entire thing – the victim’s graphic senate testimony as well as the committee’s decision–as a wire brief at the bottom of the national news page. Hang Right Politics says there was no media outrage because Sutton was given a pass since he is a Democratic state senator and not a Republican.
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