It must really feel weird to be Assembly Member Bill Brough (R-Dana Point) right now. In just the last week he could open a newspaper or turn on the television and see President Donald Trump, who has been credibly accused of sexual assault and/or harassment by two dozen women, loudly and arrogantly insist that he’s completely innocent. Brough could also see Trump vehemently defend Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has also been credibly accused of sexual assault, from new allegations that cast even more doubt on whether he was honest during his Senate confirmation hearings last year. Despite the myriad charges against Trump and Kavanaugh, Brough can also see a Republican Party still largely loyal to both men (though there are three primary challengers to Trump, the GOP is taking steps to cancel various state presidential primary elections).
This must be confusing to Brough, who’s own battle with multiple allegations of sexual harassment has brought an entirely different reaction from the local Republican Party powerbrokers. He’s defiantly proclaimed his innocence, insisted that all the accusations are just a conspiracy to attack him over his opposition to the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agency and denounced those women who’ve accused him of wrongdoing (the state Fair Political Practices Commission is also investigating Brough on an unrelated campaign matter).
“I have worked in Republican politics for the last quarter-century on campaigns, as a staff person and the last decade as an elected official,” Brough wrote in a letter to the editor published in the Dana Point Times on Aug. 30. “One thing I learned over the years is when you kick the beehive, the bees come out… I will never be one to go along to get along. I was elected to fight for good government and for the taxpayers of my district—no matter the consequences. I will continue to lead this and fight for my constituents over the interests of the establishment class, no matter the lengths that they go and the lies that they tell in an attempt to deter and discredit me.”
Sure sounds like something Trump or Kavanaugh have said. But instead of fist-bumping and promises to stay strong, the third-term right-wing Assembly member is getting calls to end his reelection campaign or step down altogether from within the OC Republican Party itself. This includes, and I can’t believe I’m even writing this, the big money Lincoln Club.
“Serious allegations have been made against Assembly Member Brough, and the Lincoln Club takes them seriously,” Lincoln Club President John Warner is quoted as saying in the Sept. 12 Orange County Register. “Republicans need strong, unencumbered leadership, undistracted by disturbing accusations about personal behavior.”
There’s a lot going on in that brief quote. And while it’s nice to see local conservatives trying to hold a local Republican official accountable for his alleged, repeated actions in regards to how he has treated women in the past, it’s also true that what Brough is accused of doing is a fraction of the accusations against Trump. Hell, during the notorious Billy Bush recording made in 2005, Trump admitted to doing way more than Brough’s been accused of, and the national Republican Party is okay with it.
Still, the OC GOP isn’t the national GOP, and on Sept. 16, the Republican Party Central Committee here “overwhelming voted” to ask Brough to end his bid for re-election and retire at the end of his term, according to a Register story posted that day. By my count, there are already three Republican primary challengers standing against Brough in the 2020 election–Deputy District Attorney Melanie Eustice, Mission Viejo City Councilmember Ed Sachs and Laguna Niguel City Councilmember Laurie Davies–though the Central Committee apparently didn’t endorse any of them.
“Accusations of sexual assault must be taken seriously and handled with respect and sensitivity,” Patricia Wenskunas, Crime Victims Leader, said in a Sept. 16 news release. “Instead, Bill Brough has launched an all-out assault on his numerous and growing list of accusers, even going so far as to publicly identify those who had wished to remain anonymous. Such tactics have a chilling effect on victims of sexual assault and are intended to intimidate them into staying quiet. This type of egregious behavior must not be tolerated or passively condoned – it is despicable. I would be in full support of a resolution against Brough’s pattern of behavior because it is long past time that he is held accountable for his actions and treatment of these women. He should resign immediately.”
Wenskunas’s words are strong and needed, especially after the very widely reported news that rape was the first sexual experience for one out of 16 women. Brough may be a nobody back-bencher in the world of Republican politics, but his expulsion from the ranks of Republican elected officials would send a strong message to women that powerful men should be punished for their bad behavior. Multiple accounts of harassment from multiple women are generally a huge warning sign, but often–especially in the case of powerful Republicans–even that level of evidence is simply ignored. Too often, men like Brough are simply what the writer Jessica Valenti calls the “one who got away“–a man who harassed or assaulted a woman in the past and then went on to live his life while she had to carry the burden of his action for the rest of hers. They benefit from “himpathy,” which the philosopher Kate Manne explained as the weaponized and inappropriate sympathy that powerful men enjoy all too often.
Trump is one who got away. So is Kavanaugh. And they are part of why the OC GOP’s attempts to hold Brough accountable may ultimately be for nothing. We live in a time when the national Republican Party is completely willing to ignore and even deride the many women who’ve accused the President of the United States and the nation’s newest Supreme Court Justice of sexual assault. The Republican Party will protect Trump and Kavanaugh because it openly embraces misogyny, and will for a long time, regardless of the OC chapter’s actions against Brough.
Which is why the OC GOP’s denunciation of Brough risks being thought of as a hollow gesture. Tossing Brough overboard while still supporting Trump and Kavanaugh is a dangerously cynical move, especially in a county where the Republican Party no longer holds absolute authority. Sexual harassment, assault, misconducted–whatever you term you use, it’s vile and utterly contrary to all honest leadership. Denouncing Brough is a solid step for the OC party, but it opens a door I can’t believe local Republicans will walk through.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.