Both houses of New Jersey's state legislature on Monday voted to commence a special commission to look into why a campaign aide to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy scored a plum job in his administration despite an accusation he raped a woman in an apartment last year.
The unusual move by the Democrat-held government underscored the increasing pressure on Democrats to hold their own responsible for instances of purported sexual misconduct. The measure passed unanimously in both houses of the state government, with three Democrats opting not to vote in the Senate and one abstention in the state Assembly.
Republicans repeatedly have argued that even as Democrats grilled Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on uncorroborated allegations of sexual assault, they turned a blind eye to high-level Democratic National Committee (DNC) members such as Rep. Keith Ellison, who has largely secured his party's unwavering backing despite being accused of domestic violence.
There are indications that the GOP's arguments are having an impact. Recent polls indicate a dead heat in Ellison's race against Doug Wardlow, his Republican opponent, according to the New York Times. The poll also found that 40 percent of surveyed voters said the domestic abuse allegations “are a factor” in whether to vote for the Democrat.
And, North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has taken bruising criticism from all sides after naming victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse in an attack ad aimed at her Republican challenger -- this, after some of the women said they did not give permission for the campaign to name them, and others said they'd never experienced abuse.
New Jersey officials appear determined to avoid a similar fiasco. Albert J. Alvarez served as chief of staff to the Schools Development Authority there, but he resigned earlier this month after reports emerged that he allegedly raped Katie Brennan, who currently works as the chief of staff to the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. Alvarez has denied the allegations.
"You look at this woman's story, and it makes you sick."
Brennan, who has gone public with her claims, said she informed Murphy staffers about her accusations against Alvarez, but the team took no apparent action.
"You look at this woman's story, and it makes you sick -- the lack of the structure in our society, the lack of respect for survivors," Murphy said at a news conference Monday. "So, my goals are to figure out what happened, let's get our government policies the very best they can be, let's make New Jersey broadly ... a society that people look up to and say, 'They respect survivors unlike anybody else.' Let's keep politics out of it."
While the governor announced that he would launch his own independent investigation, the new investigation promises a larger scope -- encompassing not only the accusations against the Murphy staffer and his administration's handling of the matter, but also broader issues concerning how sexual misconduct allegations are addressed in the state's criminal justice system.
Murphy's office has said Alvarez cleared a criminal background check, according to local reports, although the review was limited to arrests or convictions.
"I respect the processes that we put in place," Murphy said, referring to his own independent review.