DOVER, Del. (AP) — A Democrat-led House committee will take no disciplinary action against a Democratic lawmaker who used a racist and sexist slur to refer to sex workers, officials said Monday.
Following a closed-door meeting of the House Ethics Committee on Friday, committee members unanimously agreed that Rep. Gerald Brady of Wilmington did not violate legislative rules of conduct and that no further action will be taken, according to a statement by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear.
“While it is manifestly the business of this committee to ensure the decorum of House proceedings and to punish unlawful and unethical conduct that reflects upon the integrity of the House, there is no precedent for policing the lawful expression of opinions or a member’s choice of words in what he believed to be correspondence with a private citizen,” said Longhurst, the committee chair.
“Determining which ideas and manners of expression are beyond the pale is first and foremost the province of voters,” she added. “The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech and it would run contrary to those principles to punish ‘the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.’”
The statement was accompanied by a memorandum in which attorneys for the Democratic and Republican caucuses noted that there was no precedent for disciplining a lawmaker for speech outside of legislative proceedings, and that the prospect of such disciplinary action raises First Amendment concerns.
“Launching an ethics investigation every time a legislator expresses an opinion or chooses language that another legislator or member of the public finds offensive, (sic) could be a slippery slope,” the attorneys wrote.
Longhurst nevertheless said Brady’s remarks “should never be tolerated.”
Brady, who is executive director of the Delaware AFL-CIO, made the comments in a June 27 email he inadvertently sent to an advocate for decriminalizing prostitution. Thinking he was forwarding an email from the advocate to another person from whom he was seeking input, Brady instead mistakenly hit “reply” and sent his comments to the advocate.
“Is the dude basically saying, if we provide free (oral sex) for Uncle Pervie there will be few rapes and few (a slur for Chinese women) will be shipped in CONEX containers to the Port of Wilmington??” Brady wrote from his official government email address.
Amid public backlash and calls for Brady’s resignation, Democrat House leaders ordered him to complete sensitivity training and to reach out to members of the Asian-American community in an effort to regain their trust. A week later, Brady announced that he would not seek reelection after his current term expires.
“I cannot in good conscience ask the voters to put their faith in me again after I betrayed theirs,” he said at the time.
That was not sufficient for some critics.
Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, a Newark Democrat, filed a complaint against Brady with the Ethics Committee, alleging that he had engaged in “conduct which the House determines (i) brings the House into disrepute or (ii) reflects adversely on the member’s fitness to hold legislative office.”
“If we do not hold our own members accountable for their actions, we cannot claim to have values that differ from theirs,” wrote Wilson-Anton, who asserted that “hateful language is violent language.”
“If Delawareans cannot trust us to hold our own accountable they cannot trust us to govern in their best interests,” she added.
Brady said in a prepared statement that the committee’s decision does not mean that his words weren’t wrong.
“I have spent the past several weeks contacting colleagues, constituents, community members and members of the Asian American community to offer my apologies and to open a dialogue with them,” he said. “I have participated in a sensitivity training course as prescribed, and I have remained in contact with the instructor to incorporate the lessons I have learned going forward.”