Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof said the same day he learned of allegations against Findlay Republican Cliff Hite, he strongly suggested that the long-time legislator resign from office.
While he doesn’t believe a problem exists in the Ohio Senate, he said, sexual harassment training will be mandatory for senators and staff in the near future.
“I think the message should be a pretty clear one: That any inappropriate activity in the Senate isn’t tolerated.”
Hite, who resigned Monday, acknowledged in a statement Wednesday that he had had “inappropriate conversations” with a female state worker, who has not been identified.
“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,” Hite wrote. “Beyond those hugs, there was no inappropriate physical conduct. I recognized that this was inappropriate behavior. She deserves more respect than that and so does my wife.”
He did not name the woman but said she worked in a nearby office. She didn’t work for him, he wrote, and that he isn’t proud of his behavior.
His wife Diane Hite said in a statement that her husband made a mistake.
“He told me all about it, apologized to me, and I forgive him,” she said, adding that the couple is in counseling now.
Sexual harassment is front-and-center in the news with the exposure of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s behavior as well as the “MeToo” campaign in which women disclose on social media whether they’ve been victimized.
“I don’t think what happened here has any relation to what happened in Hollywood over the course of a number of years. I do think whether it’s the kinds of activities Harvey Weinstein was engaged in, the kinds of activities that Bill Clinton was engaged in a number of years ago or what Sen. Hite referred to this morning in his public statement, inappropriate behavior ought to be dealt with accordingly,” said Obhof, R-Medina.
Ophof said he will announce an application process for selecting a replacement for Hite in 1st Senate District by the end of the week.
The district comprises 11 northwest Ohio counties, including Auglaize, Van Wert and Logan counties.
Hite was first elected to the Ohio House in 2006 and was appointed to an open seat in the Senate in January 2011. He is known as a gregarious former high school teacher who once coached Ben Roethlisberger.
Hite said on Twitter that he would not take press calls. In his resignation letter to Obhof, he said, “I look forward to focusing on my personal health and spending more time with my family.”
Hite said in his statement that he has been seriously ill over the past year and now faces two upcoming surgeries in the next month. “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 said.
Hite had been chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. Recently, he had been pushing a bill that would have allowed building wind turbines within 600 feet of property lines, down from the current 1,300-foot setback requirement.
According to his Ohio Senate biography, he played quarterback for the University of Kentucky Wildcats, lives in Findlay with his wife, Diane, and has three grown children and four granddaughters.