LeVota resigning from Missouri Senate; maintains innocence | St. Louis Public Radio

LeVota resigning from Missouri Senate; maintains innocence

Jul 24, 2015

Facing heavy pressure from some of his party's top officials, state Sen. Paul LeVota announced Friday night that he was resigning from his seat.

In an announcement posted to his Facebook page, the Democrat from Independence cited "media attention" as being a "distraction from doing the people's work." The Missouri Senate detailed sexual harassment and retaliation allegations in a report released on Wednesday.

The announcement reads in part:

"As I stated before, I did not engage in harassment of any intern in the Missouri Senate and an investigation found no proof of misconduct. However, I will not put my family, myself, or the Senate through the process of dealing with the veracity of false allegations and character assassination against me."

Gov. Jay Nixon weighed in on LeVota's announcement saying:

"Although I have not received a formal letter of resignation, I understand that Senator LeVota has announced his intention to resign from the Missouri Senate. This is a necessary step and is in the best interests of his constituents. I await his formal letter so that his resignation can take effect pursuant to section 21.090, RSMo."

LeVota is nearly three-fourths of the way through his first term representing the 11th District in the Missouri Senate, which is made up of Independence and a small portion of Kansas City.  Once he leaves office, it will be Nixon's responsibility to set a date for a special election to fill the vacancy.  

LeVota’s resignation came after University of Central Missouri sided with one of its students who worked for LeVota earlier this year.

According to the Kansas City Star, Alissa Hembree gave the newspaper a copy of the Title IX report compiled by the university, and the Star article says that the report "concludes that her version" of events "is more believable than his denial."

UCM spokesman Jeff Murphy told St. Louis Public Radio that the university does not publicly release Title IX reports, but he did say that the "parties involved ... have the right to decide if they want to release it themselves."

Hembree alleges that LeVota propositioned her for sex after a lobbyist event on Jan. 26 and that her refusal led to a hostile work environment.

LeVota has denied the allegations and said Wednesday that the Senate’s investigation found no proof of wrongdoing.  But on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, removed him from the ethics committee after a second intern came forward to the Kansas City Star and alleged that LeVota pressured her for sex five years ago.

On Thursday, one of his Democratic colleagues — Sen. Jill Schupp — said that if the allegations are true, LeVota should step down. And the top Republican in the Missouri Senate is referring the accusations to an ethics committee.

Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said she read a Kansas City Star article detailing the accusations of two of LeVota's former interns. Both interns allowed the newspaper to use their names. And one of LeVota's interns from 2010 showed the newspaper screenshots of a text message exchange.

Fall of a Democratic leader

Friday marked a stunning fall from grace for LeVota, who had slogged through the legislative ranks to become one of the Missouri Democrats' top leaders. 

LeVota at his desk in 2014.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

LeVota — the son of an Independence local political figure — was first elected to the Missouri House in 2002. He compiled a somewhat moderate to conservative voting record in his early years, voting for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and for legislation establishing conceal and carry throughout Missouri.

After House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, stepped down from his leadership post to run for attorney general, LeVota was selected to take his place.He stayed on in his leadership position after the 2008 elections before leaving the House due to term limits in 2010.

LeVota returned to legislative politics in 2012 after a two-year hiatus, capturing a vacant state Senate that included most of eastern Jackson County. While he was a vocal proponent of Medicaid expansion and campaign finance limits, he diverged from some in his party when he helped filibuster a transportation sales tax hike in 2013.

Once the 2014 election cycle was finished, LeVota sought to return to legislative leadership by running for Senate minority floor leader. He lost to current Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, a St. Louis Democrat who booted LeVota off the Senate Ethics Committee Thursday.

Throughout his legislative career, LeVota became embroiled in some feuds with his fellow Democrats. For instance, he got into a particularly bitter dispute with former state Rep. Ray Salva, D-Sugar Creek, over committee assignments. And he had a longstanding political rivalry with Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders.