Why the Rep. Katie Hill Resignation Was Sexist Bullshit

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Last week, a group of Republican Congressmen led by Florida’s Matt Gaetz stormed a strongly secured government room known as a SCIF, for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. Outnumbering the security guards who chose not to escalate the situation by confronting two dozen sitting members of Congress, they hung out there for hours, some of them even making recordings on their personal cell phones in what can only be described as a dangerous security breach. The purpose of this stunt? Protesting enemy du jour Rep. Adam Schiff, whose committee was scheduled to interview a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense as part of an investigation into President Trump’s Ukraine call and various other offenses.

However, roughly half of them had the clearance to enter anyway, since they sit on one of the House committees that pertains to the Trump impeachment process. It was purely for show.

Even if you regard the national security state as bloated and undemocratic, this was a foolish move. Yet Congress is down a member this week, and it’s not for jeopardizing Americans’ safety. It’s for having consensual sex.

Representative Katie Hill

Rep. Katie Hill, a freshman Democrat from northern L.A. County’s Antelope Valley who unseated a longtime GOP incumbent in last year’s midterms, announced her resignation on Sunday night, days after a right-wing site (and later The Daily Mail) published photos of her with a female staffer. I’m not going to link, but most of them are pretty innocuous, showing nothing more than kisses. In one, she’s holding a big bong (oh no!). In others, she’s nude, brushing the staffer’s hair. There is also a sub-controversy, in that one image shows Hill with a small Iron Cross tattoo, which some conservatives have claimed is hypocritical considering that that’s a symbol the Nazis used in conjunction with swastikas, and Hill is a strong progressive and vocal anti-fascist.

As it turns out, Hill, her husband Kenny Heslep, and the staffer had been a committed throuple, vacationing together. Formerly an anti-homelessness nonprofit executive and the first bisexual woman California elected to Congress, Hill’s marriage to Heslep had been collapsing — and she appeared to have broken off both relationships by May of this year, choosing to focus on serving her constituents instead. In a statement last week where she vowed to cooperate with an investigation, Hill accused her husband of conspiring with her political enemies in a “smear campaign.”

To be sure, it is unlawful and also poor judgment for elected representatives to engage in a sexual relationship with a staffer. But this is clearly a case of revenge porn, which has been illegal in California for years. That Hill was considered a rising star, and set to replace the late Elijah Cummings as chair of the powerful Oversight Committee, makes her abrupt departure all the more startling.

In a strange twist, none other than Rep. Matt Gaetz, the archconservative leader of last week’s SCIF stampede, came to Hill’s defense. “Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text?” Gaetz tweeted.

But beyond politics’ predilection for making strange bedfellows out of sordid episodes involving, well, bedfellows, we cannot overlook the role of misogyny. As Rebecca Solnit observed, channeling Hill’s inner monologue: “You thought you were a mind, but you’re a body, you thought you could have a public life, but your private life is here to sabotage you, you thought you had power so let us destroy you.”

How do we know there is a double standard at work? Because a few Congressional districts to the south, California Republican Duncan Hunter had sexual affairs with staffers and not only evaded calls for him to resign, but actually won re-election last November even while under indictment for embezzling campaign funds. He charged $14,000 for a family vacation to Italy, then blamed his campaign manager — who was also his wife.

Hunter even took photos (later deleted) with people making white supremacist gestures. 

Meanwhile, we have a president and two male Supreme Court justices with credible accusations of serious sexual harassment, and Washington has not yet ground to a halt awaiting their resignation letters. As Elizabeth Mora put it in The Independent, “Men in power, particularly white men, are permitted a hero’s journey in their indiscretions, a moral arc in which they can make mistake after mistake — because even the most horrible transgressions are called “mistakes” when you’re a white male — and transcend to a higher plane of humanity that better informs their leadership style.” Hill’s relationship included an imbalance of power, it is true. But it was apparently consensual — and she ended it, which makes this saga all the more galling. 

By law, Gov. Gavin Newsom has 140 days to declare a special election, which might very well fall on Super Tuesday next March. Hill’s district had been trending away from the Republicans for some time, but in the wake of her resignation, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report downgraded it from “Likely Democrat” to “Lean Democrat.” If as nothing more than a test of how social attitudes are changing, it would have been interesting to see whether or not Hill’s constituents voted her back into office after this episode. We’ll never know.

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Peter-Astrid Kane

Peter-Astrid Kane

Peter-Astrid Kane (they/them) is the Communications Manager for San Francisco Pride and a former editor of SF Weekly.

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