Kansas City Democrat DaRon McGee resigned from his seat in the Missouri House on Monday night following allegations that he sought an unwanted relationship with an employee in his office for at least 10 months.
According to the Missouri House journal, the House Ethics Committee knew about the complaint on Jan. 7, and had been investigating. McGee allegedly sent several text messages that "gave the appearance of ... attempting to establish an amorous relationship."
The ethics committee said the evidence showed McGee repeatedly tried to pursue a relationship, which was "not welcomed" by the staffer and that the staffer was eventually fired.
"As leaders of our state, it is vital that we hold Members and staff of the Missouri House of Representatives accountable for the unacceptable actions causing harm to individuals or harm to the integrity of the institution," Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr said in a statement, adding that McGee's actions "are inexcusable."
McGee was the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House. He did not return KCUR's calls seeking comment, but told the Associated Press, "I'm not making any comment," and referred the reporter to an attorney.
House Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement that holding McGee accountable means lawmakers "can begin to change the culture of an institution where behavior such as this has been tolerated for far too long."
Missouri Democratic Party Chair Jean Peters Baker, also of Kansas City, said the findings were "disheartening and leave me disgusted with this continuing conduct in our Capitol by elected officials." She added: "While I had hoped this era of abuse of power had passed us, today's news demonstrated we hav emuch more work to do."
The allegations come about a year after former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens resigned due to, among other things, alleged coercive sexual contact and blackmail. In 2015, Missouri's House speaker resigned after he said he'd sent texts to an intern. And the AP reported that, across the country, dozens of lawmakers have resigned or been pushed out of office since 2017 due to allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment.
McGee, whom the ethics committee said "repeatedly delayed and obstructed these proceedings," initially submitted a letter of resignation that said he had accepted a job in Kansas City and would be done Friday. An hour later, he said his resignation was effective immediately.
Last week, the committee recommended censuring McGee, as well as removing him from committee assignments and paying $7,408 for investigation costs. The House did not vote on such actions before McGee resigned.
Rep. J. Eggleston, who chairs the House Ethics Committee, said he couldn't comment on the details beyond what was in the House journal. But the Republican told KCUR in a statement that serving on the committee involves "the unusual weight of knowing that the decisions made ... can affect the reputations, careers and lives of those involved."
"I commend the members of the Ethics Committee for deliberating the matter fairly, thoroughly and thoughfully, and I am grateful for their service to the House and the professionalism with which they handled the complaint," he added.
The nonprofit Women's Foundation said it was troubled by the fact that the staffer was fired. It had helped former House Speaker Todd Richardson change the body's sexual harassment policies after the 2015 harassment issues.
This story has been corrected to show that the House Ethics Committee recommended sanctions, but that the House did not vote on them.
Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews.
Erica Hunzinger is an editor at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @ehunzinger.