By Cean Stevens
While contemplating whether or not to write this article, I decided to google sexual harassment of senate candidates. The search results were always the same.
She’s working for my opponent.
She’s upset because she was passed over for a promotion.
She’s trying to extort money from the campaign.
But this article is not just another narration of sexual harassment. It is also the dirty side of our governmental system that everyone seems to know about but that no one on the inside has been able to cure.
I ran for office because I think the everyday, ordinary person is not well-represented in today’s political realm. In our history, serving your country as a Statesman meant that you served a term or two in Congress and then returned home to your normal job. But politicians today are overwhelmingly “career politicians”, meaning that their main concern is getting re-elected instead of being a voice for their communities. As a small business owner, I have always been big on hard work, personal responsibility, and people doing what they say they are going to do.
Several years ago, after much contemplation, I decided to step into the political arena with the hope of making a difference. I quickly discovered there are unexpected obstacles along the road and that while I was approaching this race with integrity, not everyone else is inclined to do the same.
In 2012, I joined the race for Alaska State House. I was shocked to learn that the people really in control of everything are the staff behind the scenes. I also got to experience firsthand all of the reasons why the average person doesn’t run.
Running for office requires a major time commitment, a large financial investment, and poses a significant strain on your family life and business. There is an overwhelming amount of political paperwork with looming deadlines and potential fines attached. There is research involved in learning everything that is pertinent to the position, your opponent, political strategy, voter base and more.
In 2014, I stepped up again with a better understanding of the responsibilities and sacrifices required. I was honored to receive the highest percentage of votes of any Libertarian running for higher office in the United States. Receiving this news spurred my conviction to continue to be involved in politics.
In 2016 I was approached by multiple members of the Alaska Libertarian Party (ALP) to consider running for US Senate. In Alaska, there are only four recognized political parties, the Republican Party, Democratic Party, Alaska Independence Party and the Alaska Libertarian Party. The highest seat up for election determines ballot access for the recognized party. In order to retain ballot access, the party must obtain at least 3% of the popular vote. This race presented a whole new set of unforeseen challenges.
The differences between a federal race and a state race can be compared to the differences between kindergarten and college. Financial disclosures, advertising regulations and reporting requirements are all extremely complicated and difficult to understand. Fines with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), for example, are much greater than state fines and there is absolutely no leeway in deadlines. Just one of the FEC instruction manuals is 96 pages long and is arduous to navigate through. I knew that I was going to need a great deal of help from volunteers and election experts in order for this to be a viable campaign.
Besides the candidate, the most important position in a campaign is the campaign manager. A man familiar to me and the party, whom I considered a friend, stepped forward and volunteered pro bono, to take this position, exclaiming, “It’s all in the name of liberty!” His credentials seemed sound. He had been effective going door to door in one of my previous campaigns and had served as the chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party. According to his verbal resume’, he was the “number one political activist in the state of Alaska and no one in state politics would make a move without his deciding influence”. He also spoke of his relationships with sitting legislators and that his contacts would be vital for my campaign.
I approved his role as my campaign manager. I felt grateful and fortunate to have his supposed “expertise”, but quickly learned that nothing of value is ever really free and free it was not. Little did I know how great the costs, consequences and repercussions would be from accepting his volunteered help.
My first campaign meeting was exciting with many politically connected individuals in attendance. The energy in the room was alive with support and ideas. I left the meeting feeling strong and confident about the vision and the direction of the campaign. It wasn’t very long before the purposeful segregation and control started. Within a few weeks, my vetted campaign manager started to display a domineering attitude. He subtly worked to isolate me from any outside input. This behavior was orchestrated by my campaign manager who is supposed to be a candidate’s subordinate – but who is too often not.
Immediately he insisted that we spend every waking hour together. His ego demanded constant far-fetched compliments from me in exchange for doing what was asked of him. This abusive chore left me feeling mentally drained. He required compliments and expressions of gratitude about his artistic abilities, who he knew and how scholarly he was in comparison to the average person. If I had failed to fill my compliment quota, I would be penalized. He would cease speaking or responding to me, therefore it was a necessity to rack my brain for new compliments to use daily.
Every time I tried to schedule another meeting to get input from anyone outside the campaign, he would negate the idea or agree to schedule it and never follow through. It became very frustrating to act as a director of my own campaign around his manipulations. The more that I tried to make independent decisions or seek outside feedback, the more he would become indirectly manipulative and controlling which made me feel bound by his demands.
Despite being frustrated, I told myself that this is a typical consequence of pro bono help. I was still under the assumption that his spoke of credentials were actually true. In politics, firing a campaign manager mid election could leave my campaign dead in the water. It could potentially reflect poorly on me or my volunteers. I tried to tell myself that his resume warranted his massive displays of ego and that if I could just deal with his attitude for a few more months, I would be able to achieve my goal of representing my state.
Nevertheless, I found my stress level increasing by leaps and bounds daily. When I talked with him about my professional concerns, he began suggesting that he be allowed to physically release my tension with back rubs. I was shocked, massively uncomfortable and repulsed by the idea of him touching me. I changed the subject, as women are conditioned to do when confronted with unwanted advances. Instead of backing off, he became bolder. He began sending me lewd text messages and telling me how beautiful I was. When I would voice how inappropriate his words were or remind him that I was married, he would in turn punish me by refusing to complete important projects, would cease speaking to me, miss important deadlines or threaten to quit the campaign. I had no idea what to do or whom I could ask for advice. As campaign manager, he had complete personal control of all my campaign accounts, my financial data, contact lists and advertising. By this time, he had insured that all my files were on his computer and that he had access to my email.
Within weeks, a day did not pass that he did not share his desires with me. Yet as a candidate for public office, in the spot light of so many high-profile issues, I would think about the tremendous amount of support that I was garnering and the people that had donated their hard-earned dollars to get me elected. Just as significant, pulling out of the race would instantly jeopardize the 3% our party needed for ballot access. My sense of duty and my belief in my own resilience would keep me in the fight with my focus on the desired end result. I had to hold on.
Inwardly, I was overwhelmed by the damaging position I felt that I had put myself in. The pressure and stress grew as I started receiving photo shopped pictures of myself from him where my breasts had been grossly enlarged and other highly inappropriate “doctored pics”. Text messages stating that I turned him on. In one message he sent he said, “why didn’t I meet you 24 years ago and knocked you up!!” – Spelling was not his forte.
I can confidently say that no one wants to receive these messages from a subordinate more than a quarter century their senior. In another message, he aggressively said, “You told me you would let me know what you were doing today…Did you? NOT!! The real truth is that I hate being away from you at all”. The campaign and my dreams wavered in the balance. I was tired but not defeated, confused but driven. All I wanted to think about was my hope to see the campaign through to the end, to win in spite of, if not because of this ‘professional’s’ behavior.
Once the campaign ended, his existence in my life would be over. The problems rapidly escalated when we started traveling to remote destinations. I was scheduled to attend fairs where I had purchased booths to interact with the people in our state’s communities. Lodging and accommodations were very limited for these engagements and I found myself in some precarious situations out of town desperately trying to maintain my personal space. The final straw was on one of our last trips when he started telling me that, “when we won the election, we were going to be living together in Washington, D.C. in the same house!” I asked him where he thought my husband was going to be and he said, “Oh, he’s not going to be around!”
This was what really shook me up. I realized that my campaign manager was crazy and not remotely in touch with reality. That night, I started inquiring into his behavior through colleagues and friends, consequences for my professional life be damned. I looked more closely at internal campaign emails. I quickly discovered that he had been actively attempting to sabotage my marriage for the last four months. Still on the campaign trail and stuck in a vehicle alone with him for thirteen hours, I decided that enough was enough. I had to get away from the sexual harassment and break free from his manipulations and control. I was resolved to no longer allow him to jeopardize my marriage or my health.
We had two more events to attend. I made my mind up that after they were over; I would put as much distance between us as necessary to protect myself. Unfortunately, he had arranged for accommodations at the next eleven-day fair and I learned that he had lied to me yet again. He had assured me that our sleeping arrangements consisted of multiple rooms to choose from in his friend’s home since hotel accommodations were non-existent. It turned out to be a basement space with two sleeping bags side by side on the floor.
Staying true to my resolution I informed him I was flying home to work on mandatory FEC reports. He became hysterical and started physically crying, demanding that I stay. He was enraged by my decision and once again threatened to quit the campaign if I left.
I returned home to regroup and focus on my priorities. Soon after, one of my supporters was kind enough to offer me a room for the next event. I was mortified to learn that when my campaign manager had spoken to her, he implied that we should be put in the same room and that it wasn’t a problem if there was only one bed. This particular supporter was Christian and told him that was inappropriate and was not an option. His request left me embarrassed beyond belief. When I expressed my horror at what he had said and alluded to, he laughed. I immediately made my own arrangements for accommodations to guarantee that this would be the final time that I would be faced with this situation.
Our working relationship was unbearable and my opinion of him was considerably damaged from all the lies, the ineptness, and the realization that his qualifications were merely delusions of grandeur.
Honestly, at this point I was terrified. To protect myself from him, I was preparing to embark on a bare bones, grass roots campaign, single handedly, with two months left until election day. This seemed like my only option, and was the exact fear that had been strategically dangled over my head for months by my so-called well informed, well connected, political maestro. Who, in all actuality, was just a calculated sexual predator operating under my communities’ radar.
The flip side was that the primary had just passed and the results were well above my targeted percentage. My perseverance had paid off. The candidate field had narrowed considerably and there would be more focus on my race. The last and largest event on my campaign schedule was days away and I had made my decision to do it alone. I was inundated with calls and texts from my campaign manager begging to attend, but I was done and told him his services were no longer needed. Unbeknownst to me, calculating, premeditated subterfuge was getting ready to surface.
One week prior, before I finally fired my campaign manager, I had been contacted by (at then) current chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party with a game changer. Day one’s news left me in a state of panic. A high-profile person that had previously run against my incumbent opponent was threatening to run a write-in campaign for my seat. The Chair offered to act as a liaison between myself and the other politician. He was trying to persuade me to make contact but I was pissed, to be quite frank. ‘Contact’ would have implications on my race not only for the large block of voters that I needed, but also for any potential donations I might receive. I voiced with clarity that I felt my opinion would not matter. Ultimately, it was this person’s choice to run or not and it was out of my hands.
Day two delivered another phone call from the Chair saying that the politician had spoken with national donors. The donors informed him that he would not be able to get substantial donations while running a write-in campaign, but if he ran on a party ballot, he was guaranteed at least six figures in donations. These were just crumbs to a giant backroom bread trail. I asked him what he was getting at and he remarked that he knew I had been having problems with my campaign manager for quite some time… and if I was willing to step aside, the new player in the game could take my seat in the race. I was shocked and furious. I exclaimed that the spoke of politician is not even registered as a libertarian!
He rapidly assured me that they had it all planned out and that the politician was actually, very libertarian.
My mind was reeling around this proposition. Could I actually walk away after all of the personal and financial sacrifices I had invested? My intuition was screaming at me that there was more happening here than what was being presented. I tried to sleep on it, but by day three I had been repeatedly contacted by the Chair conveying urgency. There was an impending deadline for the transition to take place if I would agree to it. It became impossible to find the silence I needed to make a methodical decision.
At the Alaska State Fair where I currently had a booth, I was receiving an enormous amount of support and feedback. According to the Chair, the replacement candidate had more money, support, better name recognition, and volunteers that could take our party further than I could. I avoided phone calls and tried to push back the anxiety while attempting to make a responsible decision for the party and not myself.
Several days later, still without consenting to the transition, I was being pressured with a list of actions that had to be executed immediately. While continuing to gather more information to help make this wrenching decision, I started working on this list, knowing that I could back out at any time.
The first of which was to present this idea to the Libertarian Executive Board to gather their opinions. The Chair took this opportunity to inform the Board how Libertarian the replacement politician was. I expressed to the board that my campaign was out of money and that I had recently fired my campaign manager. Even though, I was sure that the campaign was successful enough to garner us the 3% that we needed for ballot access, I had been convinced that the replacement candidate had more resources, support, money and the ability to win. The question was could he take the party further than I could?
I resigned myself to stepping down even though every fiber of my being was telling me not to. I could not escape the feeling there were sinister things going on behind the scenes. The Board voted to accept my withdrawal.
Immediately, the Chair took it upon himself to start emailing me resignation letters to use. The letters were suspiciously worded very similar to my former campaign manager’s rhetoric and I told the Chair that I thought my ex-campaign manager had written them. He assured me that they were not speaking and that he had written the letters himself. I was adamant I would not have anything to do with this switch if my former campaign manager was involved in any way.
Three days before the deadline I met with the replacement candidate. I was assured face to face that his beliefs on issues had evolved, that he was very Libertarian and that I would be an integral part of his campaign because he needed the strong foundation that I had built. He expressed his and his family’s gratitude for allowing him to take my place and was looking forward to working together. I repeated to him that I had been having a great deal of trouble with my former campaign manager and that if he was involved at all, I would not be. He acknowledged my concerns. Although I had constant nagging skepticism over my decision, I reluctantly agreed to resign and pull out of the race.
Over the next few days, I was bombarded by the Chair with more sample resignation letters and requests that I state in the letter that I was pulling out for personal reasons. It is a well-known joke in D.C. that the only acceptable reason to leave politics is for “family reasons,” which ironically means that political forces are happening behind the scenes.
I declared vehemently that I was not going to lie on what was probably the last communication with my loyal supporters and neighbors. I spent considerable time working on my resignation letter and the next day I went to the Division of Elections and officially withdrew. Almost immediately upon publishing my announcement, I was engulfed with negative outrage, disapproval and shock from the voting public
I instantly regretted my decision and wished I had trusted my instincts. While my character was under attack, the messages of indignation, questions of why and disappointment flooded every aspect of my life, whether asleep or awake. I had to begin ridding my home and working space of all things that reminded me of the experience with my campaign manager and a political position that I had worked so hard to win. I cannot express how difficult this was for me. I started to remove the campaign materials, agendas, calendars, and strategy lists from my space.
There were logos, signs and literature everywhere that needed to be stored as well. I started to sift through the accumulation of eight months of research and hard work that had been the sole priority in my life.
In the process of cleaning up and purging, I was horrified to come across the root of what my gut was trying to tell me all along. The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies, right? My supporters felt betrayed, because they had been, just as I had been by my campaign manager and my party’s Chair.
What had been left behind on my home computer was evidence of an absolute collusion between the current Chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party -since formally removed- and the former Chair-my campaign manager, scheming to convince me to step aside for the new candidate. The collusion and double-crossing had started weeks before I was ever approached with stepping down. I also found scathing character assassinations filled with lies and deceit that my campaign manager was sending out to individuals who were supporting my campaign- and to the very politician who took my place. While harassing me from his role as my highest level professional assistant, he had actually been apprising people that I was pulling out of the race weeks before I had been approached with the idea. It’s hard to articulate how sick this treachery left me feeling or how physically ill I felt processing these events. People that know me know I am not the type of person to lie down and pull the covers over my head when things get tough. Making the decision to expose others involves risk factors and there are implied rules when telling the truth in politics, especially when some would say this is not considered proper material for public anecdote. So, do I tuck the facts away to protect those that lie? How do I portray the utter creepiness and disgust that I dealt with on a daily basis? How do I sort through the collusion and back stabbing? Will this at least caution others to whom they are dealing with?
I chose to divulge the truth because I am a person of principle and I hope that by reaching out, I can help others navigate some of the swamp that surrounds our elections. I made a terrible decision to choose my party over my principles- it’s a mistake I will not repeat. My seat in the race may have been taken, but my dignity hasn’t. Nor will I ever again have to feel sequestered by manipulation or sexual harassment.
The trepidation has left now and all that remains is the truth of the deeply structured, dirty games that some people think is the proper way to conduct politics. I implore anyone who wants to enter our current political realm, to always choose principle over party but most importantly to trust your instincts. After all, it’s all in the name of Liberty, isn’t it?