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Senator under misconduct probe resigns, majority leader says

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) – A state senator who was under investigation following allegations of improper conduct has resigned days ahead of the start of the legislative session.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office late Friday saying that he was resigning “with a heavy heart.” He wrote that his resignation was effective immediately. The 105-day legislative session begins Monday.

Ranker has been under investigation since last fall. Tara Parker, an investigator with Ogden Murphy Wallace law firm in Seattle, was hired by the chamber in October to investigate claims made by Ann Larson, who served as Ranker’s legislative assistant for a year. Larson says she dealt with sexual harassment and hostile workplace issues while working for him during the 2010 legislative session.

Larson has said that she had a brief consensual relationship with Ranker before he was elected to the Legislature, but that when she rebuffed him after he recruited her to the Senate, he became increasingly hostile to her, and she ultimately decided to leave the job.

Larson, who is now director of government relations at the state’s Department of Enterprise Services, says she also was subjected to hostile encounters involving Ranker once she left to work as a legislative liaison for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In an email sent to his constituents and others Saturday, Ranker wrote that he has fully cooperated with the investigation.

“I am deeply sorry for any stress I caused her and I sincerely apologize,” he wrote. “I wish her peace.”

In a text message to The Associated Press Saturday, Larson wrote that she’s glad she can move on. “I hope that by my actions, more people feel safe to report any kind of inappropriate behavior without fear of retaliation,” she wrote.

Ranker’s decision comes days after Senate Democrats announced they were reconfiguring committees based on his decision to step down from his chairmanship of the newly proposed Environment & Tourism Committee, and to leave his leadership position as a vice chair for environment and natural resources on the Ways and Means Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig issued a written statement Saturday announcing Ranker’s decision, saying that process to replace him will begin “as soon as possible,” and that because the investigation into Ranker continues, he won’t be able to comment further until he reads the completed report. The investigation into Ranker is the first test of the chamber’s new workplace policies adopted in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

In July, a Senate committee approved revised workplace policies based on recommendations by a bipartisan task force. Under the new policy, once an investigation and any subsequent appeal is completed, a report will be released publicly if there is a finding of a violation of prohibited conduct.

“The Senate remains committed to creating and fostering a safe, inclusive workplace for everyone,” Billig wrote.

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