Tim Steller

Tim Steller

Among Southern Arizona’s three sitting members of the House, it appears there has only been one settlement of a hostile-workplace environment claim, the one reported last week involving an employee of Rep. Raúl Grijalva on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Spokesmen for Rep. Tom O’Halleran, the Democrat in Congressional District 1, and Rep. Martha McSally, the Republican in Congressional District 2, said neither member has settled any complaints of a hostile workplace environment. That isn’t too surprising — they’ve only been in Congress for a collective four years so far.

Democrat Grijalva, on the other hand, has been fighting to separate himself from the wave of allegations of sexual harassment that has swept over Congress — a wave that sucked Republican Rep. Trent Franks out to sea on Tuesday.

Grijalva, as you’ll recall, was not accused of sexual harassment. However, a former employee on the House Natural Resources Committee, where Grijalva is the top-ranking Democrat, did accuse him of frequent drunkenness at work and said he created a hostile work environment.

Grijalva’s office settled the complaint by paying the woman the equivalent of five months’ salary although she’d only worked on the committee for three months. The payout was $48,395.

By process of elimination and reviewing committee employment records, the Tucson Sentinel was able to zero in on a woman, Meghan Conklin, as the former employee who likely made the complaint and settlement. I tried to reach Conklin through various means but eventually communicated with her attorney, who said they were not commenting on the situation.

Grijalva, meanwhile, is chafing under a nondisclosure agreement, which he has asked to have lifted. He told me Thursday that he never admitted the accusations that the former employee made.

“We refuted them. That was never part of the settlement. The settlement became what the amount of money was,” he said.

“For me to try to prove the negative is impossible. ‘Did you stop beating your wife, Raúl?’ How do you answer that question?”

I also asked him what is probably a more fair question: Why have you missed so many votes?

According to govtrack.us, a website that tracks the activities of Congress members, Grijalva has missed 9.9 percent of the votes in the current quarter — 12 votes out of 121. That is about the average of Grijalva’s performance during the last two years, when his missed votes were as high as 17.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016, and as low as 4.5 percent in the third quarter of this year.

That compares unfavorably to McSally and O’Halleran. According to the same service, McSally has missed a total of 12 votes in her congressional career so far, the same number as Grijalva has missed this quarter. O’Halleran, in his one year, has missed two votes.

Grijalva told me he missed a whole day of votes this year when he was touring private detention facilities in Texas, and he missed more votes when he had to leave the floor to take calls related to his mother’s health.

He said he’s also missed inconsequential “journal votes,” and some on Tuesday afternoons if the only scheduled votes are on issues like renaming highways.

“If it’s on a Tuesday afternoon and that’s all we got, then I’ll stay an extra day in Tucson,” he said.

Marquez-Peterson jumps in

Lea Marquez-Peterson’s long-rumored campaign for Congress is a go.

Marquez-Peterson announced Thursday she’s having a campaign launch party as she prepares to run for the GOP nomination in Congressional District 2. The launch party is at 6 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Viscount Suites Hotel.

Marquez-Peterson is the president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. After the current holder of that seat, McSally, began considering a run for U.S. Senate, local GOP bigwigs such as auto dealer Jim Click encouraged Marquez-Peterson to run.

Now, it appears, she’s in. And if she’s in, apparently McSally is out, although she has not made it official yet.

Elías steps out

Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías has also been quietly testing the waters for a run for Congress in the same district.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Although he is widely considered an heir apparent to Grijalva in Congressional District 3, Elias lives within the boundaries of CD2. He has looked into the idea of jumping into a race for the Democratic nomination that already includes a handful of prominent Democrats.

On Thursday, though, he told me he has decided against it. He said that between family considerations and the fact that he got a late start in the race, he decided against it.

“It would have been fun, but not this time,” he said.

TUSD tensions

It would have been quite a testy Tucson Unified School District board retreat this week if it had gone ahead. The retreat was scheduled for Tuesday, but board President Michael Hicks postponed the event.

The official reason is that two board members had scheduling conflicts. One of them was Adelita Grijalva, whose children had a holiday concert the same night.

But the underlying reason: Fellow board member Rachael Sedgwick has been ripping into Grijalva’s father, Raúl, on Facebook for days, since the original story on the employment settlement came out. It would have been difficult for the two of them to be retreating together.

“If something like that happened with my dad, I think I’d be upset also,” Hicks told me, before going on a ramble about the rough relationships on the board.

“If we are truly interested in bringing this district forward and making a better school district, why are we continuing to do things like this?” Hicks asked. “We should be doing everything we can to move forward the district and not play these petty adult games.”

No vegan snakes

Let’s doff our caps to Advocates for Snake Preservation, a Tucson-based organization that promotes snake conservation and coexistence. They announced this week they are converting to a vegan-only menu for events at which they serve food, “because animal agriculture is the single largest threat to wildlife and contributor to climate change.”

But the group acknowledged that key members of its community cannot live within the new guideline. The announcement notes “Snakes, as obligate carnivores, are obviously exempted from this policy.”

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.