State News

Democratic state Rep accused of sexual harassment

Democratic lawmaker Josh Zepnick was accused of kissing and groping two women without consent on Friday, sparking demands from his own party that he resign.

The Capitol Times reported Friday that state Rep. John Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, forcibly kissed a woman who worked for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and another who was a legislative staffer after political events in 2011 and 2015.

Both women, who spoke to The Capitol Times under anonymity, decided against reporting Zepnick’s actions. They described Zepnick as being very drunk during the time he kissed them and doubted he would remember.

Fellow Democrats in the Legislature called on Zepnick to resign.

“We are expected to exemplify leadership through example. If we are going be leaders in our community then we must lead within our workplace. That means holding ourselves to a higher standard,” said state Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg. In light of the two incidences reported on today, I believe Rep. Josh Zepnick should resign.”

Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Martha Laning, state Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, and gubernatorial candidate state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, also said separately that Zepnick should resign.

On the other side of the aisle, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, issued a statement on behalf of Republican Assembly leaders. He did not explicitly say whether Zepnick should resign, rather he should “reflect on whether he can effectively represent his district in light of these circumstances and then, decide what’s best for his constituents and the institution as a whole.”

“Rep. Zepnick’s behavior was reprehensible and conduct that’s unacceptable for any human being, let alone a state representative,” Vos said in a statement.

Despite pressure from his colleagues, Zepnick said late Friday night that he will not, in fact, resign.

"My life is back on track and I've been sober for over two years. I will not be resigning, and I will continue to work hard on behalf of my constituents," Zepnick said in a statement.

He apologized for his behavior, stating he was drinking irresponsibly during that time in his life and he does not remember the alleged offenses.

"While I have no recollection of these alleged incidents, there is never an excuse for inappropriate behavior," Zepnick said in his statement. "I take the claims seriously and respect the feelings of the women involved. I apologize to both women for my actions and for any distress that I may have caused."

Zepnick and his campaign have not answered whether he will continue to run for reelection in 2018.

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