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May 7, 2021

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Controversy follows GOP pick of former Washington Sen. Joe Fain for redistricting panel

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When state Senate Republican leader John Braun mulled his pick for the Washington State Redistricting Commission this year, he had no shortage of choices.

Among the 17 contenders were big names in Republican politics, including former state senator and three-time statewide candidate Dino Rossi, former state GOP Chair Susan Hutchison, and former Congressman Doc Hastings, legislative emails show.

But Braun turned to an ex-colleague – former state Sen. Joe Fain – naming him to the bipartisan panel tasked with redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative district boundaries.

Fain has relevant experience, having served in the Legislature for eight years beginning in 2010, and rising to Republican Senate floor leader. But he lost his reelection bid in 2018 after a woman publicly accused him of raping her in 2007 in a Washington, D.C., hotel room.

Fain, who represented the Auburn area’s 47th Legislative District, has repeatedly denied the accusation.

There has been no criminal investigation, and the state Senate suspended plans, amid GOP opposition, for an independent probe after Fain’s election loss.

Fain’s appointment has reignited a feud over the accusation against him.

State Senate Republicans remain embittered over the allegation, saying it’s never been proven and should not prevent Fain from engaging in politics and public service.

In an interview, Braun, R-Centralia, said he set aside the rape allegation when considering whom to appoint to the commission. “I purposely separated that from the decision – we are a nation of due process.” he said, calling Fain the best-qualified pick.

Democrats and advocates for sexual violence prevention say Fain’s appointment to the commission is insulting and potentially traumatizing for people who have experienced sexual assault.

In an open letter in February, leaders of several women’s groups and sexual-assault prevention organizations, along with state Democratic Chair Tina Podlodowski, expressed “dismay” at Fain’s appointment, and said he should resign. Absent that, they said he should be barred from in-person contact with staff and members of the public.

Candace Faber, the Seattle resident who publicly accused Fain of raping her, said in an email Fain’s appointment “says a lot about Washington State Republicans’ commitment to allowing sexual violence to continue unabated. I believe it is clear to all of them that I spoke the truth about Joe Fain.”

“If they had believed there was any chance he was innocent, they would have pursued a thorough investigation back in 2018 to clear his name. Instead, they blocked the investigation and have relied on our society’s willingness to look the other way, as long as the perpetrator fits a certain profile,” said Faber.

After leaving the Legislature, Fain was hired as president and CEO of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. Former Gov. Christine Gregoire and University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce were among his references for the job, according to a report by KUOW.

In an interview, Fain, 40, said he is “disappointed” that a “false allegation” has trailed him to his new position, “but it’s not distracting me from the important work this commission has to do.”

Fain added, “I have always said I would cooperate with an official investigation by the proper authorities. That hasn’t happened.”

The redistricting commission is not a full-time job. Commissioners are eligible for a $100-a-day stipend for days they work on commission business.

Fain’s appointment was the decision of Braun, the Senate Republican leader. By law, the leaders of each of the four partisan caucuses in the state Legislature name one appointee to the commission.

Republicans picked Fain and former state Rep. Paul Graves. Democrats tapped state labor council leader April Sims and former state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw. The four commissioners have until Nov. 15 to agree to new boundaries for the state’s 10 congressional and 49 legislative districts, based on 2020 U.S. Census data.

In addition to Fain and the well-known GOP figures like Rossi, Braun considered other applicants, including several attorneys and lobbyists, former state GOP chair Diane Tebelius, and Tom McCabe, president of the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Olympia, according to emails released under a public-records request.

Braun expressed frustration the rape allegation continues to trail Fain. “This has been politicized and used for attack after attack,” he said, adding the allegation should have been reported to the Washington, D.C., police for investigation.

“When we decide we are going to conduct a trial on social media, that is not good for our state,” he said.

At a February news conference, Braun and other legislative Republicans lashed out at reporters for asking questions about Fain’s appointment, calling them “irresponsible,” according to a report by Crosscut.

But critics of the Fain appointment say his pick sends a harmful message.

“That my tax dollars now pay you to hold this once-in-a-decade position of power and public trust to determine the political boundaries that will influence every aspect of my life for the next ten years is so incredibly offensive to me and so many other survivors of sexual assault. Please, resign,” said Seattle resident Melissa Taylor, testifying at a commission meeting last month.

In an interview, Susan Marks, executive director of the Washington State Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, questioned why Fain was named to the the position, given the other options available.

Marks, who co-signed the letter asking for Fain’s resignation, said accusations of sexual assault are too often regarded as “not a deal-breaker” by officials, both Republicans and Democrats. “Survivors watch this. Survivors know when they come forward people won’t believe them,” she said.

Walkinshaw and Sims also released a statement, saying the “best outcome” would be for Fain to step down, “given the seriousness of the allegations, the absence of an investigation, and the impact this would have on public participation.”

But Fain has remained on the commission, which has begun its early work of hiring staff and creating a public-outreach plan. At its most-recent meeting this week, Fain and other commissioners worked through a humdrum agenda including discussions of its budget.

Sims said in an interview that as the only woman on the commission, she’s listening to “women who are lifting up how traumatizing this is – we have to create space for that.”

But with the commission roster is set, there is no way for Democrats to remove Fain, who will help define the state’s political maps for the next decade.

“At the end of the day it’s the Republicans’ right to appoint whoever they want to represent them,” Sims said.

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