By LOU WILIN
Former state Sen. Cliff Hite admitted Wednesday that “inappropriate behavior” with a female state employee contributed to his abrupt decision to resign.
Senate President Larry Obhof said Wednesday he had “strongly suggested” to Hite that he step down after Obhof heard about allegations of sexual harassment by Hite on Oct. 11, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
After Hite resigned Monday night, rumors circulated Tuesday that a woman had made a sexual harassment complaint against Hite.
Hite, 63, a Findlay Republican, sought to address those rumors in a tweet Wednesday morning.
“I’m not proud of recent inappropriate conversations that I had with a state employee who did not work for me but worked in a nearby state office. After we met, I sometimes asked her for hugs and talked with her in a way that was not appropriate for a married man, father, and grandfather like myself. Beyond those hugs, there was no inappropriate physical contact,” Hite tweeted.
“I recognize that this was inappropriate behavior,” Hite said. “She deserves more respect than that, and so does my wife. I apologize completely. This is no one’s fault but my own. I’m proud of my long career as a teacher, coach and legislator, but I’m not proud of how I acted with this person.”
Obhof said he met with Hite last week, within a few hours of hearing about the harassment allegations, the Dispatch reported.
“We dealt with it in a very efficient manner, very quickly,” Obhof said Wednesday. “I think he did the right thing by accepting responsibility by apologizing for his actions. He recognizes that some of the behavior was not appropriate.”
Obhof suggested there is still an ongoing process regarding the woman’s complaint, but he declined to elaborate. The young woman who filed it does not work for the Ohio Senate, but reportedly worked with Hite in a Statehouse-related capacity.
“The message should be pretty clear that any inappropriate activity in the Senate isn’t tolerated,”
Obhof said, adding that he is planning to start doing sexual harassment training for Senate members at the start-of-the-session caucus retreat every two years. “In the short term, we plan to have something like that for members and staff of both parties in the near future,” he said.
Hite’s tweet discussed a combination of circumstances leading to his resignation.
“As I’ve said previously, and in recent public statements, I’ve been seriously ill over the last year, have been hospitalized for several days, and I am now facing two different surgeries scheduled for next month. I just don’t have the strength to continue to travel back and forth from northwest Ohio to Columbus each week and make my way around such a large Senate district. The combination of my mistake in judgment and my failing health led me to decide to step down, so someone else can represent the good people of my district.”
Hite’s wife, Diane, also issued a statement in the same tweet.
“I love my husband and he’s a good man, but he made a mistake here. He told me all about it, apologized to me, and I forgive him,” she tweeted. “We don’t have a perfect marriage and, like so many couples, we’ve had some hard times in our relationship. We’re in counseling now, and we’re hopeful that both our marriage and Cliff’s health will get better.”
The Hites’ tweet said they will not be doing any interviews or taking press calls.
Obhof said a process for replacing Hite will be announced by the end of the week. The Senate Republican Caucus will likely have final say over who Hite’s successor will be.
Hite has represented Ohio’s 1st Senate District since early 2011, and he was chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The 1st District includes Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, Defiance and Williams counties, and part of Auglaize, Fulton and Logan counties.
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