Members of the Utah Democratic Party are calling on its governing body to suspend state Sen. Gene Davis after a second woman publicly accused him of sexual misconduct last week. Signers of the letter say that state party leaders have been slow to act on the most recent allegation against the longtime Democrat.
“Though the Party has a stated duty to take swift and decisive action in cases of misconduct, our leaders have failed to take any substantive measures regarding the allegations; the State Executive Committee refuses to do more than refer to prepared talking points,” the letter to the Utah Democratic Party Executive Committee reads. “It is an unacceptable failure of leadership that such a serious allegation of sexual harassment has been allowed to remain all but ignored.”
Last week, Sonia Weglinski, a former intern and campaign staffer for the longtime senator, said in an Instagram post that there had been multiple instances when Davis had touched her, making her feel uncomfortable, during the five months she worked with him. The Utah Senate has initiated an independent investigation into the allegations and the Salt Lake County Democratic Party has temporarily suspended Davis from party activities.
In emails shared with The Salt Lake Tribune last week, Utah Democratic Party Chair Diane Lewis addressed the allegation of inappropriate behavior internally, telling party members simply, “We have talking points prepared. If this gets to the media.”
In the letter sent Wednesday evening to the party’s senior leaders, Democrats requested a special meeting of the state political party’s Central Committee, which is primarily composed of Democratic officials elected to public office and party leaders.
Under the Utah Democratic Party’s constitution, one of the ways a Central Committee meeting can be called is through the agreement of “no fewer than three County Chairs.” Eight county chairs — along with 47 other party leaders, public officials and Democratic candidates — signed the letter.
“The Utah Democratic Party has created an environment that has allowed this type of behavior to continue. We are complacent,” Young Democrats of Utah President Emma Fetzer, who signed the letter, told The Tribune on Wednesday evening. “So rather than saying that our hands are tied, we should look at what we, as UDP, have done in the past and how we can do better in the future.”
A day after Weglinski posted the allegations, the Salt Lake County Democratic Party announced it was temporarily suspending Davis from participating in party-related activities. The party’s chair, Eva Lopez, cited a clause in the party’s Anti-Harassment Policy that says, “[This] policy does not limit our authority to discipline or take remedial action for conduct that the Party determines to be unacceptable, regardless of whether that conduct meets the definition of harassment” — a clause identical to one in the state party’s policy.
“It’s my duty as chair to take allegations into consideration, especially if there are patterns,” Lopez told The Tribune after releasing the statement. “I still have the ability, and the responsibility, to create a safe party for participation.”
Lopez is one of the eight county chairs who signed the letter.
According to a statement by Lewis, “the party cannot launch our own investigation until there is an official complaint to us.”
Weglinski, a 20-year-old student at the University of Utah, told The Tribune last week that she opted not to file a complaint with the party because of how it has handled sexual harassment investigations in the past, and because she didn’t want her story to be “filtered through” the party.
“Ms. Weglinski expressed that she did not submit a formal complaint to the Party because of how its leaders have handled sexual misconduct investigations in the past; she feared that Party leadership might try and simply dismiss her allegations,” the letter reads. “We cannot allow complacency toward harassment — or fear of reporting that harassment — become the norm in our Party.”
Requests for comment from Utah Democratic Party Chair Diane Lewis, the party’s executive director and a spokesperson were not immediately returned on Wednesday. In a statement released Saturday, the state party’s executive committee said it is “actively seeking ways” to make its harassment investigation process more accessible and inclusive.
On Thursday evening, communications director Ben Anderson confirmed that party officials had received the letter, which was currently being reviewed by the Democratic Party’s legal team and parliamentarian to ensure the request for a special meeting was aligned with the party policy.
“We are currently working on the logistics of the meeting under the assumption that it does,” Anderson said in the statement.
Fetzer, of the Young Democrats of Utah, told The Tribune that honoring the requests included in Wednesday’s letter is “the least that the state party can do.”
“If politicians and political parties want the continued support of young people then they need to ensure that they are creating safe spaces for us,” Fetzer said. “We deserve to exist without fear of harassment. We are not disposable.”
Editor’s Note • This story was updated on Aug. 11 to include a statement from the Utah Democratic Party’s spokesperson.