Rep. Joe Souki, D–Wailuku, who was first elected to the Hawaii House of Representatives in 1982, will resign from the House no later than Mar. 30, pay a $5,000 penalty, issue a public apology and not accept any public office for two years. That’s the finding of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, which on the morning of Wednesday, Mar. 21 finally released its investigative report into allegations that Souki sexually harassed former Human Services Director Rachael Wong (the report is dated Mar. 16). The report is catastrophic for Souki, who has long maintained his complete innocence.
“Respondent Souki admits that, while serving as Speaker of the House and in meetings held in his State Capitol office, he touched and kissed more than one woman in ways that were inappropriate and unwelcome. He admits that this physical contact exceeded the boundaries of the customary ‘aloha kiss,’” states the Ethics Commission report. “Respondent Souki further admits that he made sexual comments, including comments on the physical appearance of more than one woman, that were inappropriate and unwanted.”
Despite the Ethics Commission’s repeated statements that Souki “admits” he made “inappropriate” contact and comments to Wong, Souki still insisted he was the victim in The Maui News’ Mar. 21 story on his punishment.
“When asked Tuesday evening if he would acknowledge any misconduct as part of the settlement, Souki said, ‘I’m not acknowledging anything,’” The Maui News reported. “He said he would only reiterate what he’s said in the past; that he ‘kissed a woman on the cheek… [and] had no intention of stalking.’”
Souki–who has so far missed 15 complete days of the Legislative session, giving him the worst attendance record of any House member–then reiterated that he feels he’s the real victim here. “We have to somehow live through it,” Souki told The Maui News. “I would not want this to happen to anyone else.”
Souki’s hubris looks especially bad when you read Honolulu Civil Beat’s Mar. 21 story on the Ethics Commission’s findings. The news organization located three additional women who said Souki harassed them.
“Civil Beat spoke with three women–one former staffer, one former lobbyist and one legislator–who did not file complaints with the Ethics Commission but said Souki kissed them on the lips,” Civil Beat reported. “Civil Beat agreed not to identify them because they fear retaliation, even with Souki leaving office. A female legislator told Civil Beat that Souki kissed and touched her without her consent. She says many of her colleagues don’t take Souki’s actions seriously.”
In a statement released the night of Mar. 20 but embargoed until the morning of Mar. 21, House Speaker Scott Saiki made clear that Souki has to go. “Although it was not a signatory to the settlement agreement, the House of Representatives concurs with the settlement agreement and will abide by its terms,” said Saiki. “It is regrettable that a legislative career that spanned 36 years is ending in such a manner. As a legislator, Representative Souki always put his constituents first. Maui will lose an able and courageous advocate.”
Saiki added that the House “takes a zero tolerance approach to workplace harassment” and that “We have already increased training for House members and staff.”
Lt. Governor Doug Chin, who is running for Congress, issued a statement defending Wong. “I applaud my friend and colleague Rachael for her willingness to take a stand against sexual harassment, even in the face of immense opposition and adversity,” Chin said in his Mar. 21 statement. “Rachael and I worked together for two years, and I deeply respect her courage and integrity. Her actions will help empower more women in Hawaii to feel safe enough to speak out and let their voices be heard.”
Governor David Ige will choose Souki’s successor from a list of three names provided by the Democratic Party.
Photo courtesy Joesouki.com