There are two kinds of secrets under the State Capitol Dome: The ones that have already come out and the ones that will eventually come out.
Tuesday, Republican Delegate Danny Hamrick announced he was stepping down as chair of the House Education Committee. The news broke in a two-sentence statement, which said nothing about why he was stepping aside.
Initially, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw would say only that he asked for Hamrick’s resignation and that it was a “personnel matter” that had nothing to do with the upcoming special session.
Any time statements raise more questions than they provide answers, you can expect the press to start digging, and that’s exactly what happened. It didn’t take long for any reporter who asked around to learn the forced resignation was because of Hamrick’s relationship with a female legislative staff intern.
Hanshaw clearly viewed that as inappropriate, which it was. Hamrick, who is married, is in a position of power as chairman of a committee. The female intern is in a subordinate position. Hamrick was given little choice but to step down.
Because word spreads at the State Capitol faster than you can walk from one chamber to another, it wasn’t long before everyone knew why Hamrick was ousted. The delegate decided Wednesday afternoon to issue a statement explaining what happened.
By now you’ve heard the story and you can read the full statement, but Hamrick admitted to developing “strong feelings” for the staffer and spending time with her outside of the Capitol “for a few weeks.” He equated the relationship to “no more than a mutual high school crush.”
However, when the two decided to spend time together, they were starting down a perilous path. “Delegates and staff are instructed during human resources training that they are not to have relations with employees under their direct supervision,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “Additionally, staff interns are instructed during their orientation that they are not to have relationships with delegates. Sanctions for violating these policies include termination of an individual’s employment or punishment of members under applicable rules of the House.”
To his credit, Hamrick did not make excuses or blame someone else for his own shortcomings. “I start this statement by saying I made a mistake and take full responsibility for that mistake,” he said. That would not be a bad phrase for every public official to copy, paste and keep on hand for when they veer from the straight and narrow.
He said that he understood the relationship fostered gossip at the Capitol and was “disrespectful to the House of Delegates as a body and to other West Virginians,” adding that he stepped down because he did not want to “bring any further drama into the legislative process.”
Hamrick also asked that the media respect the privacy of the intern. We talked about it at MetroNews and decided that, unless there is something we still don’t know, that was a reasonable request.
I’m going to take a wild guess here that Hamrick is not the first member of the West Virginia Legislature to take up with a young staffer. However, the past should not be prologue here. A committee chairman dating a staff intern is just wrong, even if it was nothing more than a mutual crush.
Appropriately, Speaker Hanshaw didn’t stand for it and Hamrick took responsibility for his actions.