Utah Democratic Party suspends Gene Davis, asks the state senator to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct

The statement from the Utah Democratic Party follows a letter signed by dozens of Democrats decrying the party leadership’s ‘inaction.’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, during a special session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Davis was suspended from the Utah Democratic Party on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022 after allegations of sexual misconduct.

A week and a half after a former intern publicly accused state Sen. Gene Davis of sexual misconduct, the Utah Democratic Party is suspending the longtime lawmaker from party-related activities at all levels and has called for him to step down from the Utah Legislature.

The decision, announced in a statement issued late Friday night, comes after the allegation exposed a rift in the party over its handling of sexual harassment. In prior statements, the party’s stance was that it couldn’t take action unless it received an official complaint.

“Following Ms Weglinski’s statement last week, party leaders and members of the Executive Committee spoke privately with Senator Davis,” Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Thom DeSirant wrote in the statement late Friday night. “Though he denied specifics of the allegations in his interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, we believe the behavior he acknowledged, regardless of context or intent, was unacceptable. We requested he voluntarily step down.”

University of Utah student Sonia Weglinski, a former intern who also worked on the senator’s reelection campaign this spring, said in an Aug. 3 Instagram post that Davis touched her in ways that made her feel uncomfortable on multiple occasions during the five months she worked with him.

Before resigning from Davis’s reelection campaign in June, she detailed her allegations to Davis’ campaign manager, former Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chair Richard Jaramillo, and in a letter to the senator. In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune last week, Weglinski said that she did not submit a formal complaint to the Utah Democratic 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.

Weglinski is the second woman to publicly accuse Davis of sexual misconduct. In a 2021 Facebook post, former legislative staffer Elizabeth Converse alleged that the senator behaved inappropriately toward her when she worked at the Utah Capitol and while they were on a work trip in Chicago.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams announced on Aug. 5 that the Utah Senate had initiated an independent investigation into the allegations. Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne did not respond to a request for comment regarding the Utah Democratic Party’s announcement.

Following the accusation, Davis told The Tribune that he was “flabbergasted” by the allegations, but confirmed at least one of the incidents Weglinski described in the Instagram post. He did not respond to requests for comment on Friday evening or Saturday after the party’s decision.

The longtime state senator was defeated by Nate Blouin in the Democratic primaries earlier this year, but Davis will retain his seat in the Legislature until January. He currently sits on numerous committees in the Senate, including interim committees that are scheduled to meet next week.

The Utah Democratic Party’s statement comes two days after dozens of Democrats signed a letter addressed to the party’s executive committee calling for Davis’ suspension, as well requesting a central committee meeting to address the allegations.

“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 reads. “It is an unacceptable failure of leadership that such a serious allegation of sexual harassment has been allowed to remain all but ignored.”

Eight county party chairs signed the letter, along with 47 other Democratic leaders, public officials and candidates. After its publication, according to Utah County Democratic Party Chair Katie Adams-Anderton, 42 more added their names, making the total 97.

Under the Utah Democratic Party’s constitution, a central committee meeting can be called through the agreement of “no fewer than three County Chairs.” A meeting has tentatively been scheduled for Aug. 23.

Among the signees was Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chair Eva Lopez, who suspended Davis from county party-related activities the day after Weglinski’s post.

“It’s my duty as chair to take allegations into consideration, especially if there are patterns,” Lopez told The Tribune afterward. “I still have the ability, and the responsibility, to create a safe party for participation.”

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, “We have talking points prepared. If this gets to the media.”

On the same email chain, other leaders within the party shared competing perspectives on whether the party has done enough to stop sexual harassment within its ranks.

The county chairs who signed the letter have not yet canceled their request for a central committee meeting, according to Adams-Anderton. She said they will meet to determine whether they are satisfied with the state party’s decision.

DeSirant said in the Friday statement that the party is reviewing how it can include information on “appropriate conduct and steps expected when or if they receive such a complaint” in training it offers to staff, campaign workers and volunteers.

“We’ve tried to balance our belief that everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, our commitment to the deliberative steps and due process our governing documents require, and our obligation to ensure that every member of our party – at every level – is treated with the respect and dignity they are entitled in a space that is free from harassment or discrimination,” DeSirant wrote.

“Ultimately,” the party’s executive director continued, ”we find ourselves faced with multiple credible allegations of misconduct by Senator Davis and must err in favor of the safety and well-being of our members.”