The Republican Party of Orange County on Monday night called for GOP Assemblyman Bill Brough to bow out of the 2020 race for California’s 73rd Assembly District and retire from office when his current term ends.
Brough, R-Dana Point, is facing allegations of sexual assault and an investigation by state ethics officials over his use of campaign funds. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in both cases, accusing the women who’ve filed harassment complaints against him of being motivated by politics.
But in executive session during the OCGOP’s monthly Central Committee Meeting, elected members overwhelmingly voted to approve a resolution opposing Brough’s re-election “based on the totality of the circumstances and allegations surrounding the Assemblyman.”
A source who was present in the closed door meeting tells the Register that only Brough and one or two other members voted against the resolution. When it passed, the source said Brough stormed out of the meeting.
The assemblyman, who’s serving his third representing AD-73, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday night’s vote.
It was during the OCGOP’s June meeting that Supervisor Lisa Bartlett first publicly accused Brough of sexually harassing her during an event eight years earlier when the pair were serving on the Dana Point City Council.
Three other women then also came forward to accuse Brough of making unwanted sexual advances in the past, though two of the women chose to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. But Brough outed those women in a mass email sent to OCGOP members Aug. 16. In the email, Brough again denied the women’s claims, insisting they were all retaliating against him for action he’s taken to try to control escalating costs for Orange County’s toll road projects.
“One thing I learned over the years is when you kick the beehive the bees come out,” he wrote.
In a joint statement released Monday night, Brough accusers Bartlett, Heather Baez and Jenniffer Rodriguez said they decided to speak out to defend themselves and correct the record.
“Bill Brough’s sexual misconduct and predatorial behavior has already caused each of us great pain and anxiety. As if that was not enough, now he is using his position of power to shame and intimidate us. Unfortunately for Bill, his actions have given us more resolve than ever to stand up against his bullying tactics and tell people the truth about his behavior.”
Baez, who’s been a staffer for state legislators and worked for local government agencies, said she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Brough with the state assembly in 2017. She said Brough has made “repeated and unwanted advances” for years, “including inviting me to drinks, dinners, an overnight hotel stay, and an extremely offensive and non-consensual physical contact.” Baez denies that her accusations are politically motivated, insisting she stayed quiet before because she didn’t want the incidents to interfere with her job.
Rodriguez refuted Brough’s claim in his mass email to OCGOP members that he only met her “once in 2015.”
During that meeting, Rodriguez alleges Brough said, “‘I have been watching you for a long time and wondering why you weren’t married.’ He even described a dress he had seen me wearing at a previous event. He then went on to tell me that he was ‘on the Elections Committee’ and could help me out if I went home with him.” When Rodriguez told Brough that she was disgusted by his proposition, she says “he sat there and smiled.” Rodriguez said she immediately called her boss to help get her out of the situation, then told various coworkers and elected officials about the incident.
Patricia Wenskunas, founder of the Irvine-based non-profit Crime Survivors, was guest speaker at Monday’s OCGOP Central Committee Meeting. She gave an impassioned defense of Brough’s accusers.
“It is long past time that he is held accountable for his actions and treatment of these women,” Wenskunas said in a statement. “He should resign immediately.”
The Central Committee stopped short of calling for Brough to resign, instead encouraging him not to seek reelection.
Assemblyman Steven Choi, R-Irvine, was one of the only people to speak in defense of Brough, according to a source who was present. Choi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent to his chief of staff.
In August, the Register reported that Brough spent roughly $35,000 in campaign funds over the first six months of the year on travel, hotels, food, clothing and sports tickets. The state announced the next day that it was already investigating an ethics complaint that claims Brough spent roughly $200,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses over the past four years.
Brough issued a brief statement in response stating that he’d been cleared by past audits, though one state audit did lead to a written warning from ethics officials.
In the wake of those reports, the influential conservative group the Lincoln Club of Orange County last week rescinded its previous endorsement of Brough’s 2020 candidacy. And the grassroots group the Orange County Congress of Republicans announced it was endorsing GOP challenger Ed Sachs.
Brough is also facing competition from Republicans Laurie Davies and Melanie Eustice along with Democratic challenger Scott Rhinehart.
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