Democratic Rep. Katie Hill to resign amid allegations of improper relationship with staffer
Rep. Katie Hill (D-Santa Clarita) announced Sunday that she would resign from Congress after allegations that she engaged in affairs with a congressional aide and a campaign staff member became public this month.
Hill announced the resignation in a letter to constituents, saying she was stepping down “with a broken heart.”
The letter did not specify when the resignation would take effect. Hill will be the first female member of Congress to resign in a post-#MeToo era. Her resignation will also be the first after a House rule banning sexual relationships with staffers was enacted last year in response to nearly a dozen male members of Congress resigning amid sexual harassment allegations.
“This is what needs to happen so that the good people who supported me will no longer be subjected to the pain inflicted by my abusive husband and the brutality of hateful political operatives who seem to happily provide a platform to a monster who is driving a smear campaign built around cyber exploitation,” Hill wrote in the letter.
“I know that as long as I am in Congress, we’ll live fearful of what might come next and how much it will hurt.
“For the mistakes made along the way and the people who have been hurt, I am sorry, and I am learning I am not a perfect person and never pretended to be,” Hill wrote.
Hill is in divorce proceedings with her husband of nine years, Kenneth Heslep. William Strachan, an attorney for Heslep, said his client had no comment when reached by The Times.
The resignation marks a dramatic fall for Hill, who was elected to Congress as part of the “blue wave” that allowed Democrats to take the House in 2018. She had been a regular presence on cable news shows and was chosen by her fellow freshmen as their representative to the House leadership. That position gave her a seat at the table with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and some of the biggest names in the national party.
Pelosi raised money for Hill during the campaign, and Hill defended Pelosi when some Democrats were calling for new leadership. Hill leveraged the relationship in securing a coveted position among House leadership, a spot on the whip team and the vice chairmanship of the powerful House Oversight Committee.
“Congresswoman Katie Hill came to Congress with a powerful commitment to her community and a bright vision for the future, and has made a great contribution as a leader of the Freshman Class,” Pelosi said in a statement Sunday night. “She has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable. We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces.”
Hill’s prominence began even before her election. As a candidate, she drew the kind of attention that most first-timers can only dream of: profiles in national newspapers, major fundraisers and social media attention. Vice News spotlighted her campaign in a series of mini-documentaries.
The fall came just as quickly.
Last weekend, the conservative website RedState published a series of articles alleging that Hill had engaged in relationships with a member of her campaign staff and the House staffer. Hill denied the relationship with the House employee, which would be a violation of House rules, but did not deny the relationship with the campaign staff member.
The release of the stories, complete with intimate photos of Hill, sparked debate about a double standard in the male-dominated world of political sex scandals, particularly because Hill has blamed Heslep for releasing the photos. Hill’s resignation is likely to bring those questions further out into the open.
On Wednesday, in a letter to constituents, Hill again denied the alleged relationship with the House staff member but acknowledged she was involved in a separate relationship with a member of her campaign staff “during the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage.”
“I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment,” the letter read.
The House Ethics Committee announced it was investigating whether Hill “may have engaged in a sexual relationship with an individual on her congressional staff,” an allegation Hill has denied. House rules were changed last year to prohibit relationships between members and their employees in response to multiple allegations of harassment levied against male members of Congress.
Hill also said she had contacted U.S. Capitol Police after intimate photos of her and another person were published by the RedState website. Photos of her were also published by a British tabloid.
Hill said Heslep “seems determined to try to humiliate me.”
In the letter announcing her resignation, Hill said she would continue to pursue legal options over the nude photos posted online without her consent. The personal photos were “weaponized” against her and an “appalling invasion” of her privacy, she wrote.
Hill’s plan to resign will force Democrats to find a new candidate to defend the House seat in a district that is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats but went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hill won last year by 9 percentage points with 54% of the vote in the Antelope Valley district, which has trended Democratic in recent years as Los Angeles residents looking for affordable housing moved in. Democrats now hold a voter registration advantage there of nearly 5 percentage points.
Though Hill was expected to win a second term, her resignation will make it slightly more difficult for Democrats to retain the seat, said Dave Wasserman, political forecaster for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
In a statement, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), chairwoman of the House Democrats’ campaign committee, called Hill “a dedicated servant who brought an important perspective to our Caucus.”
“This evening I told her that I respect her decision and wish her well,” Bustos said. “There is no doubt that Democrats will continue to hold this increasingly blue and diverse seat, building on Katie’s resounding victory in 2018.”
Local Democratic activists played a major role in Hill flipping the seat, and supporters were dismayed by news of her resignation.
Eva Rejhons of Valencia, a 50-year-old Democrat who enthusiastically voted last year for Hill over Republican incumbent Steve Knight, said she was devastated.
“I don’t care about people’s sex lives, but if she brought a staffer into it — you’re just not supposed to do that,” she said.
Republicans immediately pledged to win back the seat with a hint of the allegations against Hill.
“California voters are completely disgusted at what they’ve seen from the socialist Democrats these past ten months,” Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who leads the House Republicans’ campaign committee, said in a statement. “We look forward to winning back this seat and giving voters in CA-25 someone they can be proud to support.”
The timing of a new election remained unclear Sunday and may depend on the timing of Hill’s actual resignation. State law gives the governor up to two weeks after a vacancy opens to set the date for a special election, but there is some flexibility.
The most likely outcome seems to be a special election that would coincide with the state’s March 3 primary, but the election could come as late as early May. The winner of that election would serve out the remainder of Hill’s term. The top two candidates in the March primary would face off again in November 2020 to serve a full term.
A special election coinciding with the primary could favor Democrats because the party has an active presidential nomination contest likely to draw partisans to the polls, but the Republicans do not.
Wire and Haberkorn reported from Washington and Mai-Duc from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Michael Finnegan also contributed to this story.
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