COLUMBIA — A Statehouse page has filed a sexual harassment complaint against state Rep. Edward Southard of Moncks Corner.
Southard was told about the complaint Thursday.
When reached by phone, Southard, a Republican, decried the publicizing of the information, which traditionally is kept private.
“It was supposed to be confidential,” Southard said. “That kind of bothers me that you’ve called and are telling me you already know it.”
He added that he was not asked to resign.
When asked if he was willing to discuss further details of the alleged incident, Southard reiterated his frustration with the information becoming public.
“You shouldn’t be knowing about it because I was assured that no one would know about it, except me and three other people,” Southard said.
After a complaint is filed, the House speaker’s office is required to conduct an investigation. Once it’s complete, the speaker has several options, including referring it to the House Ethics Committee or to law enforcement.
“The speaker’s office cannot provide comment on possible ethics complaints or investigations pursuant to state law,” said Caroline Delleney, spokeswoman for House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville.
“Such matters are given immediate and serious attention,” Delleney added. “If a complaint is filed, Speaker Lucas adheres to House policy to ensure the matter is resolved properly.”
Calls to multiple House members concerning the allegation raised against Southard were not returned.
Southard was elected to represent District 100 in 2010. He serves on the House Regulations and Administrative Procedures Committee and the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.
He has had a combative relationship at times with longtime House Republicans, most recently disagreeing publicly with the House’s budget-writing chairman, Anderson Republican Rep. Brian White, over how much of a pay raise state employees should be given in the state spending proposal.
The complaint against Southard marks the second time in less than a year that an allegation of sexual harassment has been raised against a sitting House member. In May, former House member Nelson Hardwick of Horry County abruptly resigned after an allegation of sexual harassment was raised.
Hardwick was ultimately indicted on misconduct charges for touching a House staffer “inappropriately” against her will. The status of the case was not immediately available.
The duties of House and Senate pages include delivering materials and messages within the Capitol complex, answering phones in the members’ offices and working in the House or Senate chambers when the General Assembly is in session, according to the state website.
Complaints involving sitting lawmakers and members of the Statehouse page staff, many of whom come from the nearby University of South Carolina, arise periodically.
In 2001 then-Gov. Jim Hodges ordered an investigation into an anonymous memo from the Statehouse “Men’s Caucus” that jokingly suggested female pages wear more skimpy outfits.
The supposedly tongue-in-cheek memo came in response to an official notification from the Women’s Caucus reminding female House pages of a dress code that bars short skirts and blouses that show cleavage.
“I am concerned that the circulation of this memorandum might have created a hostile and offensive working environment for female employees of the House of Representatives, in violation of state and federal law,” Hodges wrote in ordering the investigation.
The phony memo upset a number of female lawmakers, including former Rep. Vida Miller, D-Pawleys Island, who took to the House floor at the time to demand an apology on behalf of female pages and staffers.
“The remarks from the ‘Men’s Caucus’ were just offensive and could be construed as sexual harassment,” she said.
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-708-5891.