COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two Republican state lawmakers apologized on Friday for offensive remarks they made during a top House staffer’s going-away party that made light of recent sexual misconduct scandals and disparaged female lawmakers.
State Rep. Bill Seitz, of Cincinnati, and state Sen. Matt Huffman, of Lima, separately expressed regret for vulgar and derogatory jokes cracked on Tuesday at the farewell celebration for House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe. Their remarks came less than a week after the House completed newly mandated sexual harassment training.
Seitz, a veteran lawmaker known for his oratory, issued an open letter overnight Thursday to House Speaker Clifford Rosenberger and fellow House members saying he regretted any shame, distress or embarrassment he caused with his comments. Among other things, he maligned GOP state Rep. Candice Keller and former state Rep. Diana Fessler with name-calling and suggestive and sexist jokes.
“My words were irresponsible as a member of this esteemed institution and as a member of House leadership,” wrote Seitz, the House majority leader.
Huffman apologized for remarks including a vulgar term for female genitalia.
“I understand why people at the event were offended, and I apologize,” Huffman said in a statement released through Senate leadership on Friday. “I am truly sorry.”
The event, styled as a roast and offering an open bar, was held at the posh Athletic Club in downtown Columbus. About 100 legislators, lobbyists and staff members attended. Keller was not there, but at least one other female House member walked out because the proceedings got so vulgar. Seitz fell afterward and broke his ankle.
Keller said she was shocked and disappointed when she heard about Seitz’s comments, which included saying she wears a “tin-foil hat.”
“It’s very hurtful and very embarrassing. I can’t explain why,” she said. “It’s humiliating for some reason, and I didn’t really do anything. I find it odd, really, in light of the Harvey Weinstein culture in which we live, that everyone isn’t more cautious.”
Weinstein, a Hollywood movie producer, has been accused of sexually harassing several women. He has apologized for causing “a lot of pain” with “the way I’ve behaved.”
Keller said she wishes that Rosenberger, present at the event, had done more to stop it in the moment.
“I can’t for the life of me figure out in what universe this is funny,” she said, adding she came to Columbus to get things done for her constituents on jobs, tax reform and fighting the opioid crisis.
John Fortney, a spokesman for Republican Senate President Larry Obhof, said Obhof spoke to Huffman and “expressed his strong disappointment and disapproval.” He said the need for any further action is being evaluated.
Last year, then-state Sen. Cliff Hite, a Findlay Republican, resigned after an investigation found he had touched and made inappropriate comments to a female state worker. Within the month, then-state Rep. Wes Goodman, a Republican from Cardington, resigned after acknowledging a sexual encounter in his office.
In an acknowledgment letter to Seitz, Rosenberger said he was “disheartened by the careless and insensitive remarks” the representative made. He told Seitz he expects his remarks to be more thoughtful and his behavior more respectful going forward. He directed Seitz to personally apologize to Keller and Fessler.
Democratic state Rep. Nickie Antonio, the state’s first openly gay state lawmaker, said those sitting in the crowd that night should “come forward and demand better.”
“Until we demand better of our elected officials and hold them accountable for treating taxpayers like commodities and the Statehouse like a playground, we won’t make progress on important issues like job creation, school funding and equal pay,” she said. “Time’s up for sexual harassers at the Statehouse.”