December 09. 2017 2:49PM

Andy Sanborn says 'crass language' sparked state Senate investigation

New Hampshire Union Leader

CONCORD — Four-term state Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, denied making a sexually inappropriate comment to a male Senate employee four years ago, calling it “crass language” that offended no one.

Sanborn, who is now running for Congress, was in a Senate office with his wife and two Senate staffers in February 2013 when he made the comment. Since then, Senate officials have refused numerous requests for information about the incident or the elected official involved, though sources told the New Hampshire Sunday News it was Sanborn.

“In early 2013, I used crass language in response to an absurd statement made by someone in my office, with my wife present,” Sanborn said during a telephone interview late Friday night. “A staffer of the Senate president overheard it and brought it to the attention of Senate President Peter Bradgon. He and legal counsel fully explored it and determined it did not violate any Senate policy and no one in the room was offended by the joke. No complaint was filed. Case closed. If that’s news, so be it.”

In the months after the February 2013 incident, the Senate paid $4,147 to a White Plains, N.Y. law firm specializing in sexual harassment claims to look into this matter, which included interviewing the staff member, and updating the Senate’s policies against all forms of discrimination.

The staff member is no longer employed in the Senate.

Sanborn insisted the comments were not sexually inappropriate or rose to any sexual harassment. He blamed his political enemies for spreading “totally false” stories about him.

“At a time when women across this land are being harassed and disrespected it is disgusting that anyone is trying to equate a crass joke to all the real challenges that women are facing today,” Sanborn said.

Bragdon confirmed Sanborn’s account of the story saying he spoke with the employee in private, who said he wasn’t offended and denied the Senate was a hostile work environment.

“I talked to everyone who was in the room. There was concern expressed that one person would have taken offense,” Bragdon said.

“I definitely checked, ‘Was this something that bothered you?’” Bragdon said. “It wasn’t the case at all for everyone I had talked to. ... If I recall, it was kind of a comment that was a little off color, something you hear from time to time.”

After initially refusing to answer questions about the incident, Senate leaders on Friday evening responded to several Right-to-Know requests from media outlets confirming a “proactive inquiry” was conducted. They declined to name Sanborn, though they did not cite any specific law in withholding the information.

“No state funds have been expended to settle any matter involving any senator or member of the Senate staff,” Senate attorney Rick Lehmann said in response to requests for documents and records.

The incident was brought to light in the last few weeks as attention to sexual harassment grew across the country. At least one former state senator, a Republican, urged the Senate to release information.

Two weeks ago, the Senate’s lawyer asked the state attorney general to review how the complaint was handled.

“Attorney General (Gordon) MacDonald has confirmed that we handled the matter appropriately and in compliance with the law,” according to the Senate release.

Current Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, released a strongly worded statement Friday spelling out the steps he’s taken since becoming Senate leader to ensure there is a culture where no harassment is tolerated.

“I want to be perfectly clear: there is no place for harassment of any kind at the State House and we have a duty to protect all who work at and visit our state’s capitol,” Morse said.

Morse also said he wants anyone to freely report any behavior that makes them uncomfortable.

“In addition to maintaining a safe working environment, we have the responsibility to protect the identity of people who may come forward to express concerns about the behavior of members, staff, or other people in the State House complex. My door is always open to those who wish to do so,” Morse said.

Sanborn is seeking the GOP nomination to replace retiring Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester. The other declared Republican running is former state liquor law enforcement chief Eddie Edwards of Dover though former GOP Vice Chairman Matt Mayberry of Dover also is considering his own campaign.

There are six Democrats already running to take Shea-Porter’s spot as that party’s nominee in 2018.