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Top California Democrat on leave amid sex misconduct inquiry

Posted: 5:53 PM, Nov 26, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-27 01:53:52Z

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The chair of the California Democratic Party took a leave of absence Monday amid an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him.

Eric Bauman's leave will last until an outside investigation ends, party spokesman Mike Roth said.

"Chair Bauman believes this decision is the best way to ensure the independence and integrity of the process," Roth said in a statement. "The Party is confident that the procedures in place will allow for all parties to come forward freely and provide for a thorough and complete review."

A party vice chair accused Bauman last week of sexually harassing and assaulting several unnamed people at party functions and called for Bauman's resignation. Others including California U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna and the Orange County Young Democrats called for Bauman to step aside.

Daraka Larimore-Hall, the vice chair, spoke to two accusers and a witness, the Sacramento Bee newspaper reported.

Bauman announced an outside investigation on Saturday.

"I take seriously any allegation brought forward by anyone who believes they have been caused pain," Bauman said in a statement. "I look forward to putting these allegations behind us and moving forward as unified Democrats."

The party's executive board could vote to remove Bauman from office. But Larimore-Hall's call for Bauman's removal is still several steps from such a vote.

In a letter to the party last week, Larimore-Hall said stories from Bauman's accusers illustrate a "clear and escalating pattern" of inappropriate behavior.

Larimore-Hall did not respond to a request for comment Monday from The Associated Press.

Bauman's leave comes just weeks after California Democrats made major gains in the midterm elections, winning key congressional seats in territory long held by Republicans.

A series of sexual misconduct allegations against lawmakers, lobbyists and others in politics rocked California's political world late last year, at the height of the #MeToo movement. Three Democratic men resigned as state lawmakers after investigators hired by the Legislature found they likely engaged in inappropriate behavior.

Bauman narrowly won the party chairmanship last year against Kimberly Ellis after a contentious battle between establishment Democrats and progressive activists.

During that fight, Bauman said he was falsely targeted by rumors he engaged in inappropriate behavior with teenage boys. Bauman is the party's first openly gay chairman.

Bauman called the rumors "despicable lies," and Ellis denounced them.

First Vice Chair Alex Rooker will take over Bauman's duties while the investigation proceeds.