Senate should drop investigation into rape allegation

The Washington state Senate was never the right entity to investigate an alleged rape 11 years ago on the other side of the country.

But it appears that might happen in the case of state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn. Fain was recently accused by Candace Faber of raping her in his hotel room the night she graduated from a Georgetown University master’s program in 2007, four years before he joined the Senate. He has denied the allegation.

When it looked like Fain was headed toward re-election earlier this month, a bipartisan Senate committee unanimously voted to hire an outside investigator to look into the allegation by Faber, a guest faculty member at the University of Washington. At the time, one of the goals would have been to provide senators with information to help decide whether or not to seat Fain for a third term, a power granted them by the state Constitution.

Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, suggested on Nov. 8 that the Senate would re-evaluate the need for the investigation should Fain lose. A day later, that happened. Democratic candidate Mona Das pulled ahead of Fain, who then conceded that evening. After eight years in the Senate, Fain, 37, will no longer be a lawmaker come January.

Yet Nelson’s successor, the newly elected Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, now says the Senate’s investigation will continue anyway. That’s the wrong move and smacks of partisan politics.

By pursuing this, Billig’s first action as Democratic leader is to alienate minority Republicans, an unwise choice. Although Democrats are poised to hold a 28-21 majority in the Senate, they still need to work with GOP senators to craft important statewide policies.

“An investigation of Sen. Fain could cost taxpayers upwards of $100,000,” said state Sen. Randi Becker, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus, in a statement late last week. “For what? Since the alleged activity took place years before he became a senator, and he’s not continuing with us, an investigation no longer has a legislative purpose. This case properly belongs in a court.”

Politics aside, it is unclear what this investigation would accomplish or what the Senate would ultimately be able to do with the results.

Given Fain’s election loss, the probe would be a waste of time and resources, and Senate Democrats should abandon it. If the intent was to help senators decide whether or not Fain should rejoin the chamber, there is no longer that need.

Instead, senators should channel their efforts toward preventing and addressing sexual harassment for women and employees who work at the Capitol. That means the Senate coming together with the state House to agree on uniform rules of conduct in both chambers, as well as a consistent process for handling complaints – changes that are long overdue.

Lawmakers should ensure these measures are in place by the time the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Doing that would go much further to improve the culture at the state Capitol than a largely symbolic investigation into a soon-to-be former senator.