Freshman Democrat Faces Primary Challenger Amid Calls to Resign
By Michael Sainato
On December 1, BuzzFeed reported that a 25-year-old woman quit the campaign of Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) in April 2016 due to repeated sexual harassment from Kihuen. The story noted that Kihuen propositioned the woman on multiple occasions “despite her repeated rejections.”
“On two occasions, she says he touched her thighs without consent,” the story reads. At the time, the woman reported to the DCCC that she quit because she was uncomfortable around Kihuen.
Since that story was published, DCCC Chair Ben Ray Lujan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have called on Kihuen to resign. When news first broke, Kihuen issued a statement at first apologizing, but then later claimed he did not recall the events outlined in the allegation.
Kihuen, who won his Democratic Primary with just 39.9 percent of the vote, inspired a primary challenger in his 2018 re-election before the allegations surfaced, largely in response to his refusal to join the majority of Democrats in the House to co-sponsor Medicare for All.
“We have a lot of issues that our representatives need to be representing in Congress and in the Senate that to take advantage of the power that you hold and use it in such a way that affects other people, that was very disheartening for me to hear,” Amy Vilela, Kihuen’s Democratic Primary Challenger, said in an interview with the Real News Network in response to the sexual harassment allegation against Kihuen. Vilela is backed by Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, political organizations founded by former Bernie Sanders staffers to help elect progressives.
Vilela is best known for activism in support of Medicare For All, which she began to campaign for after her 22-year-old daughter was refused medical service because of a lack of insurance. She died soon afterwards from a pulmonary embolism caused by lack of treatment for deep vein thrombosis. Vilela says she told her story to Kihuen in a plea for him to support Medicare for All, but he dismissed her concerns.
“There’s a lot of Americans that are hurting, that are in pain, and they need real representation,” Vilela said. “I’ve had a very interesting life in that I have experienced many things that are typical for the average American. I have been a single mother. I put myself through college as a single mother. I’ve also watched my children endure racial discrimination. I have been on WIC and I’ve been on food stamps and Medicaid for pregnant women and children. I understand the struggles, and the struggles are real for the majority of Americans.”
It’s unclear whether the recent allegation against Kihuen will ultimately result in his resignation, or what impact it will have on his re-election efforts.
“At this point, for me, nothing as changed as far my candidacy. I am still an issues-based candidate,” added Vilela. “There are a lot of families that are scared right now that they’re going to be deported. We have families here that don’t make enough money to provide food and the basics of life and necessities of life for their family. We have people here that are going to be losing their insurance and their care. The list goes on and on.”