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Standing up for Blake Farenthold, as he always stood up for me

As a previous employee of Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), I have spoken to almost a dozen reporters since the #MeToo movement took off and I agree, Capitol Hill is rife with sexual harassment. Powerful men know that young female staff are replaceable and, until recently, women have more to lose than to gain by speaking out. But as eager reporters and disgruntled employees rush to pass judgment, the other side of the story frequently gets lost.

A scandal obviously gets more clicks than the Office of Congressional Ethics voting to dismiss all charges or a dozen female staffers signing a letter saying they were treated with dignity and respect by their boss. And a story is guaranteed even more clicks when the headline is accompanied by a picture of a man in ducky-pajamas leaning on a cocktail waitress. But the story that doesn’t get clicks is one where the elected official is kind, brilliant, hard-working, and dedicated to empowering the nerds, misfits, and outcasts of any gender. That is the truth I know from working for Congressman Blake Farenthold.

{mosads}Upon being hired in 2013, I liked working for Blake immediately. He is whip-smart and has a Socratic-style of debating that I found improved to my work product and understanding of policy (looking back, it may have also been intimidating to staffers who were not fresh out of law school).

Blake encouraged me to dive head-first in to tech issues, an interest we shared. His love of technology never waivered, even when he saw how cruel social media can be to elected officials, particularly those with the awkward nature of a computer programmer mixed with slightly off-putting conservative punditry. The Blake I know always took it in stride and frequently used humor to deflect the deeply personal and offensive attacks. Were these jokes occasionally off-colored? Yes. But mostly they were tragically self-deprecating.

In recent weeks, I have racked my brain for sexual harassment that I may have missed while working in Congressman Farenthold’s office. Upon reflection, there are two moments that stand out in my mind that speak to Blake’s character. The first occurred when I was standing in the hall talking to a fellow staffer when a former member of Congress (who is now deceased) shuffled by and groped me, smirking lazily. Still in shock a moment later, Blake came up and asked what was wrong. Before I could finish the sentence, Blake went straight up to the congressman and told him his behavior was unacceptable. I don’t think Blake ever forgave him.

The second character defining moment for me happened during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill that bans late term abortions, even in instances of rape or incest. As the Democrats offered amendments, Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) began to rant on and on that Republicans do not care about rape victims. As a rape victim, I sat at the staff table looking aimlessly at my phone, trying to hold back tears, when I got a text from Blake saying, “Hey Ray-Ray, let’s take a walk.” In the hall, Blake said to me, “you don’t have to go back in there, but if you want to, know that I’m always in your corner.” He saw my pain and empowered me to overcome it.

Blake’s acute understanding of emotional pain was probably developed throughout an unspeakably difficult childhood. At 11 years old, Blake’s father was murdered by the mob. His mother’s prescription drug and alcohol problem led to a turbulent upbringing. It’s no wonder that he spent most of his adolescence programming computers in the basement. And while he may lack the social graces of many politicians, he beat the odds to defeat a 28-year incumbent by a few hundred votes in 2010.

I’m standing up for Blake today because he has always stood up for me. He always looked out for the emotional wellbeing of his staff.

We should hold our elected officials to a higher standard. But at the end of the day, they are still human. They have flaws. I would never say that Blake is a perfect person or that we had a perfect office, but the truth is, the good outweighed the bad. I urge people to look to both sides of the story when convicting someone in the court of public opinion.

Wolbers served as legal counsel to Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).

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