Congress

‘A victory for the women that Ruben harassed’: Former Rep. Kihuen falls five votes short in comeback

No Means No Ruben PAC claims victory as former congressman’s Las Vegas City Council bid fails

Ruben Kihuen, right, a former Nevada congressman, lost his campaign for Las Vegas City Council Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ruben Kihuen, the former Nevada congressman whose single term in office was clouded by a sexual harassment investigation, lost his bid for Las Vegas City Council by five votes on Tuesday.

Kihuen placed third in a field of seven candidates, failing to qualify for the runoff election. Kihuen garnered 861 votes, just a few shy of second-place finisher and neighborhood activist Melissa Clary, who received 866 votes, the Las Vegas Sun reported. Former state Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz came out on top with 1,016 votes.

Diaz was boosted by the endorsements of Nevada Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto and the Culinary Union, according to the Sun.

Kihuen served only one term on Capitol Hill before reports that he repeatedly sexually harassed women — including a former campaign aide — severely imperiled his chances for re-election. 

The House Ethics Committee concluded in November of last year, following a nine-month inquiry, that “Kihuen made persistent and unwanted advances towards women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities.” The advances included kissing, grabbing and comments about underwear.

The 4th District Democrat did not seek a second term.

Kihuen sought to revive his career — announcing his campaign for the city council in January — in part by waving away the behavior that ended his career in Washington as “paying a compliment to a woman.”

“What I want to clarify out of all of this, is that nobody accused me of raping anyone, they didn’t accuse me of … sexual assault,” Kihuen told the hosts of a Spanish-language radio show in Las Vegas last week. “They accused me of paying a compliment to a woman.”

But the No Means No, Ruben political action committee — co-founded by state Assemblywoman Heidi Swank and composed of state politicians and community activists — brought the issue to the fore by canvassing and through its website.

“Ruben issued a boilerplate apology, but he has taken no concrete steps to make amends for his behavior, nor has he made any real effort to learn and grow from this experience,” a petition on the site reads.

“This is a victory for the women that Ruben harassed. It shows that voters in Las Vegas believe them, trust them and that sexual harassment will not be tolerated,” the PAC said in a statement after the results of the election rolled in, according to the Sun.

According to BuzzFeed, the PAC was backed by Battle Born Progress, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that describes its mission as “serving as the public relations firm of the progressive community in Nevada.”

Kihuen’s failed bid represents another hit to the career of a onetime mentee of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

For her part, former Kihuen finance director Samantha Register, who testified to the Ethics Committee that her boss propositioned her for dates and sex and touched her thigh without her consent, has not returned to politics. She said because of her lack of experience in any other field, she struggled to land another job after the campaign.

“Campaign staff members who are being mistreated seemingly have no options other than either risk their careers and financial stability by quitting, or stay on a campaign and endure abuse,” Register wrote in a Nevada Independent editorial that faulted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for not acting on her reports about the harassment sooner.

Kihuen’s future unknown after harassment accusation

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.