In October 2016, officers at Georgia’s Kennesaw State College had been contemplating the destiny of a 20-year-old man accused of raping a classmate. A faculty investigation had already discovered the person culpable, and his accuser assumed he’d be thrown off campus.
Then an influential state consultant, Earl Ehrhart, acquired wind of the scenario.
Inside weeks, Ehrhart had written on to KSU’s president, Sam Olens, blasting the case as “made for TV absurdity” and demanding to know why, if cops hadn’t pressed prices, the college hadn’t exonerated the scholar within the first place. A month later, the college did simply that.
Ehrhart, a 58-year-old Republican from Cobb County, close to Atlanta, and a rich CEO of a sprawling sports activities advanced, was first elected in 1988. Since then, he has made a reputation for himself as a lightning rod round social points. He fought affirmative motion for years, tried to cross legal guidelines undercutting antidiscrimination ordinances in Atlanta, and declared in 2005 that what “militant homosexuals are in search of is particular rights, not equal rights.” Recently, Ehrhart’s pet venture has been altering how schools take care of sexual assault, out of concern for the therapy of accused college students. He tried earlier this 12 months to push by way of a controversial campus rape invoice that he stated would have protected “tons of” of males falsely accused of sexual assault.
“He’s utilizing his workplace and his place to primarily bully the College System of Georgia to see his means.”
Whereas Ehrhart’s laws failed, it seems that he was in a position to obtain lots of his targets behind the scenes, and a few authorities ethics specialists are alarmed at how the highly effective lawmaker has flexed his political muscle groups. “He’s utilizing his workplace and his place to primarily bully the College System of Georgia to see his means,” stated Sara Henderson, head of Widespread Trigger Georgia, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
Emails obtained by BuzzFeed Information present that Ehrhart urged he may minimize funding from state universities investigating sexual assault allegations and that he advised directors to close down their techniques for adjudicating sexual misconduct. In a single case, he stated a dean conducting a background examine on a potential pupil with a previous misconduct accusation needs to be fired.
He has labeled critics “men-haters” and “illiberal snowflakes,” and these days, he has even taken on school cheerleaders who refused to face for the nationwide anthem.
Ehrhart’s positions have solely helped bolster his nationwide prominence. 4 years in the past, when he pushed to extend scholarships to colleges that discriminate towards homosexual kids, Ehrhart defined that constituents have a “actual style for something that promotes faculty alternative in Georgia.” His status as a champion for varsity alternative helped him safe a private assembly with US Training Secretary Betsy DeVos two months after she took workplace, emails from the White Home present.
He has labeled critics “men-haters” and “illiberal snowflakes,” and these days, he has even taken on school cheerleaders.
Since then, DeVos has scrapped Obama-era mandates on how schools deal with sexual assault circumstances — the purpose of a lawsuit Ehrhart had filed towards the Training Division below the earlier administration. As advocates for sexual assault victims worry extra rollbacks of Title IX protections below DeVos, they now see Georgia as one other entrance within the battle over methods to take care of campus rape. Public universities have modified their insurance policies to be extra in keeping with Ehrhart’s proposals, and he has stated he’ll attempt to revive the controversial laws on campus rape that failed this 12 months. If he’s profitable, his critics worry lawmakers in different states shall be emboldened by Ehrhart’s ways and emulate them.
To some, Ehrhart is just performing like a politician. Michael Shires, a public coverage professor at Pepperdine College, stated elected officers use their affect on a regular basis to steer selections for constituents. He stated it seems like Ehrhart “was attempting to exert stress with all the pieces he had” when he acquired concerned in particular person circumstances. To others, Ehrhart is crossing an moral line. “A public official who’s performing outdoors of his or her jurisdiction is abusing their authority, and he doesn’t have jurisdiction over college students, or pupil conduct, or a college rulemaking course of,” stated Hana Callaghan, director of the Authorities Ethics Program at Santa Clara College’s Markkula Heart.
In a press release to BuzzFeed Information, Ehrhart stated his viewpoint is straightforward: “Younger males who’re accused of assaulting ladies ought to have due course of identical to each different American citizen. Legally, there may be nonetheless a presumption of innocence on this nation. We will defend that sacred precept whereas additionally defending ladies who’ve been assaulted.” He characterised his profession within the Georgia Meeting as “targeted on serving to individuals, defending households, and serving to to construct a powerful economic system for my constituents and the individuals of the state.” And two of his guiding ideas, he stated, are “Rule of Legislation” and “Due Course of.”
At this #MeToo second, defending college students accused of sexual misconduct may look like a dangerous platform for a politician, however Ehrhart says he did not decide the trigger — the trigger discovered him. Two years in the past, days after Rolling Stone retracted a narrative a couple of gang rape on the College of Virginia that turned out to be fabricated, the Atlanta Journal-Structure ran a characteristic story about how Georgia universities had punished school college students for sexual assault even when legal prosecutors declined to take action.
“Nearly the subsequent day I get a name from a constituent mother, and I met her for breakfast and he or she was simply sobbing,” Ehrhart advised BuzzFeed Information in March. “Her son had been accused, and he or she had barely made it house from a enterprise journey in time — he tried suicide. She acquired him to a hospital in time. Simply so you already know, that younger man is now discovered not accountable, however it nearly ruined his life, and the household and all the pieces.” He estimates that since studying that Journal-Structure story, he is met with 5 or 6 moms in comparable conditions.
“My recommendation is to close down this workplace and all pending kangaroo courts till my invoice passes.”
In a single instance, a father or mother emailed Ehrhart straight on Jan. 29, involved that their son was being handled unfairly in a sexual misconduct case on the College of Georgia. Ehrhart, who on the time was pushing laws to vary campus rape investigations, forwarded the message to College of Georgia officers, with a be aware: “My recommendation is to close down this workplace and all pending kangaroo courts till my invoice passes.”
Ehrhart intervened within the KSU case on the request of Lisa Wells, the accused pupil’s lawyer. The person had denied raping the lady, basing his protection partly on impotence, police data present. Prosecutors determined in Could 2016 there was inadequate proof of a criminal offense. However a college investigator concluded that an assault had occurred, prompting Wells to write down to KSU demanding it take one other take a look at the incident. She copied Ehrhart on her e-mail.
KSU officers agreed to reopen the case, and whereas they had been reviewing it, Ehrhart emailed Olens, the college president, noting the cops’ discovering that no crime had occurred. “How on earth a College bureaucrat will be allowed to attract a distinct conclusion ruining somebody’s life escapes me,” he wrote in an e-mail that was first reported by the New York Instances Journal. Olens forwarded the e-mail to KSU Title IX directors. Just a few weeks later, they reversed their authentic determination and cleared the person. Wells stated the primary investigation of her consumer was a “witch hunt,” and he or she stated that bias by investigators towards the person — not Ehrhart’s involvement — led to the reversal. Lisa Anderson, an legal professional who represented the lady, together with by way of unsuccessful appeals, and who runs Atlanta Ladies for Equality, disagrees. “Georgia has develop into the proverbial embodiment of what can go fallacious when individuals abuse energy to erode Title IX protections,” she stated.
“I’m doing my job for the taxpayers of Georgia by mentioning abuses,” Ehrhart stated in his assertion.
When Ehrhart was getting began in Republican politics within the 1980s, he volunteered to assist abused kids and was a member of the Cobb County Sufferer Witness Help Unit. He advised the Atlanta Journal-Structure in 1986, “It’s time we begin worrying concerning the rights of victims of crime and never the criminals.” That sentiment rose to the floor once more within the mid-2000s, when Ehrhart opposed efforts to repeal Georgia’s so-called Seven Lethal Sins regulation, which imposed obligatory minimal 10-year jail sentences for juveniles convicted of any one in all seven particular felonies, together with rape. Critics stated the regulation denied due course of to younger offenders, most of them black teenagers who couldn’t afford to rent their very own protection attorneys. Ehrhart disagreed.
“I do not prefer to be thought-about an indignant white male.”
“Most of those children are fairly far gone, and for these seven heinous crimes, I imagine the sentences are simply compensation to society and the victims,” Ehrhart stated in 2004, years earlier than he would start championing the rights of male school college students accused of rape.
All through his profession, Ehrhart has gone on multiyear campaigns to dam insurance policies that primarily profit ladies, minorities, and the LGBT group. His argument towards insurance policies aimed toward reversing previous discrimination is that individuals shouldn’t be punished for previous discrimination dedicated by their elders.
“I do not prefer to be thought-about an indignant white male,” Ehrhart stated in 1995. “I am simply of a era that isn’t culpable, not accountable, and refuses to be immolated on the sins of our fathers.”
Ehrhart’s efforts have made him a hero of males’s rights activists.
“For each deadbeat partner you hear about, there’s a gold digger on the opposite aspect.”
In the course of the 2000s, Ehrhart took up the reason for reforming the state’s youngster help legal guidelines in order that funds had been decided by each dad and mom’ incomes. Ehrhart stated reform was wanted as a result of second wives had been getting a uncooked deal on account of their husbands having to help first wives.
“For each deadbeat partner you hear about, there’s a gold digger on the opposite aspect,” Ehrhart stated in 2002. Ehrhart, who divorced in 1998 and later remarried, rejected criticism that his marketing campaign was motivated by his private life, and famous he had custody of his children. It took a number of years, however a baby help overhaul was ultimately handed in 2006.
Ehrhart devoted a lot of this 12 months to combating to cross Home Invoice 51, his proposal that initially would have required a school to attend till a legal investigation and trial was accomplished earlier than punishing a pupil accused of sexual assault — a course of that may take years. Ehrhart stated the laws would have benefited rape victims by stopping colleges from interfering in police work, however in feedback to BuzzFeed Information final spring, he additionally stated it could shut down campus “kangaroo courts” that led to harmless college students being expelled. Ehrhart didn’t know the precise price of individuals mendacity about rape, however stated, “I do know from my very own expertise there’s a vital quantity of false reporting, I’ve seen a variety of them, it is not one-off anecdotals.” He stated he had information from 50 to 60 circumstances in Georgia alone the place a school pupil was falsely accused.
Ehrhart’s largest weapon in his battle to vary the way in which schools deal with accused college students is cash.
The invoice was celebrated by males’s rights activists. The perimeter web site A Voice for Males stated the invoice may “develop into a template for different states’ dealing with of this concern,” perhaps even for reform on the federal degree. HB 51 failed within the spring however in August, the state’s college system rolled out a brand new coverage reflecting one in all Ehrhart’s targets: Sexual assault circumstances would undergo the identical judicial course of as different pupil misconduct, eradicating the Title IX coordinator from having main oversight of such investigations. Officers confirmed to BuzzFeed Information that Ehrhart supplied enter on the brand new coverage, however stated the change got here after years of discussions. The brand new coverage raises the burden of proof for expelling an accused pupil and offers the college system extra affect on punishments.
In an e-mail to BuzzFeed Information that month, Ehrhart celebrated the change as “responding to the nationwide tragedy of Due Technique of regulation denied.”
Ehrhart’s largest weapon in his battle to vary the way in which schools deal with accused college students is cash: He chairs the committee that controls funding for Georgia’s state universities, and he makes no secret of his willingness to wield that baton.
In January 2016, Ehrhart convened a listening to on due course of after the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Georgia Tech complained it had been unfairly punished over allegations that people on the frat home had yelled racial slurs at black college students. “Hear me clearly,” Ehrhart stated to 3 college directors on the listening to. “You bought a bond venture? When you do not defend college students of this state with due course of, do not come trying to us for cash.”
“You bought a bond venture? When you do not defend college students of this state with due course of, do not come trying to us for cash.”
The subsequent month, Georgia Tech dropped its request for $47 million to renovate its library. Ehrhart later stated he’d struck down the request. When Kennesaw State’s Zuckerman Museum of Artwork hosted an “Artwork AIDS America” exhibit in Could 2016 that some lawmakers, together with Ehrhart, discovered distasteful, he reminded the college of the $47 million library request that had died. “I had a variety of success in getting Tech’s consideration in spending taxpayer cash on ridiculous issues,” he stated. (This 12 months, emails present Ehrhart backed Georgia Tech’s request for the library cash. The state’s public universities had began altering their insurance policies on dealing with campus rape within the intervening months.)
However Ehrhart insisted in a press release he has “by no means threatened funding to any greater training establishment,” he is simply holding college directors accountable, which “is a giant a part of my job as a legislator.”
Ehrhart’s energy is such that he has develop into the go-to man for legal professionals who need some additional muscle in battles with state colleges.
In August 2016, legal professional Jonathan Hawkins advised Ehrhart a couple of pupil who needed to switch to Georgia State College however who had a sexual misconduct investigation pending at his earlier faculty. Consequently, Georgia State officers had delayed his switch whereas it carried out a background examine. The coed stated he was transferring to flee this false accusation and, indignant that it could dig into his previous, advised Georgia State that he not needed to attend the college.
Ehrhart dived proper into the dispute, firing off a livid e-mail to GSU lobbyist Julie Kerlin wherein he referred to as for the assistant dean concerned within the delayed switch, LaRonda Rena Brewer, to be fired for her “thuggish conduct.”
“Inform President [Mark] Becker I’m uninterested in these points, and I’m going to tell all of my selections on College funding by those that harbor all these thugs on their campus,” Ehrhart wrote. Brewer, who stays on the job, didn’t reply to requests for remark.
Ehrhart’s defenders say his intervention has ensured that some college students’ rights aren’t trampled upon.
Kerlin advised Ehrhart that it was commonplace for the college to do a background examine on a switch pupil below such circumstances, however the lawmaker pressed the college to apologize to the person and refund his $376 software charge, which it did. “The truth that Earl Ehrhart put all of this in writing, in emails, simply reveals how emboldened and empowered he feels to do that,” Henderson, of Widespread Trigger, advised BuzzFeed Information.
Ehrhart’s defenders say his intervention has ensured that some college students’ rights aren’t trampled upon.
Earlier this 12 months, he intervened on behalf of a Georgia State College regulation pupil named Nicholas Nesmith who’d appeared on the Capitol to testify in help of Ehrhart’s HB 51. Three years earlier, Nesmith had been present in violation of the college’s sexual misconduct coverage and served a one-year suspension. The girl who’d accused him of misconduct was additionally on the Capitol, to oppose HB 51, and feared Nesmith is perhaps there to intimidate her. She alerted Georgia State, prompting the college to name Nesmith in for a gathering to ask whether or not he was “repeatedly and intentionally” attending occasions the place they had been more likely to encounter one another. Ari Cohn, a lawyer on the Basis for Particular person Rights in Training, a civil liberties group, complained to GSU directors for apparently investigating Nesmith. Cohn additionally alerted Ehrhart, who weighed in with an indignant e-mail to the college calling Nesmith’s therapy “outrageous.” Days later, the college concluded that Nesmith had finished nothing fallacious.
Cohn stated it was a case the place Ehrhart had good motive to get entangled. It’s one factor for a lawmaker to attempt to get a school pupil out of bother for underage ingesting, he stated, however a far totally different story when a public college “is flagrantly violating the Structure.”
“When that’s occurring, any and all forces needs to be dropped at bear,” Cohn advised BuzzFeed Information.
Ehrhart is understood for “inflammatory ways” within the legislature, as newspapers have described it. He misplaced his first reelection bid, in 1990, when Republicans stated he could not be efficient as a result of he practiced “a wierd model of alienation politics.” He got here again in 1992. In 1998, to get individuals to hearken to one in all his speeches, Ehrhart tried to get the home speaker to make use of a rule that permits for the arrest of lawmakers if they do not return to their seats, although the speaker on the time, a Democrat, declined Ehrhart’s request.
Whereas Ehrhart did a number of telephone interviews within the spring with BuzzFeed Information, he proved arduous to succeed in this summer season and fall. His enterprise, a 1,400-acre sports activities and recreation advanced geared towards the booming youth sports activities journey league trade, in Emerson, Georgia, appeared empty when BuzzFeed Information dropped by unannounced on a Tuesday afternoon in October. Ehrhart did not reply his workplace telephone when this reporter referred to as from the car parking zone.
The week that BuzzFeed Information tried to catch Ehrhart at work, he was busy making calls to Sam Olens, the KSU president, to complain about cheerleaders who had knelt throughout the nationwide anthem at a Sept. 30 soccer sport, to protest racial injustice. “Sam is coddling them,” Ehrhart texted Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, in accordance with messages launched by way of data requests.
Ehrhart, Warren, and Warren’s spouse referred to as Olens to complain concerning the protest within the days after the sport. Olens assured them that the cheerleaders had been going to be stored off the sector sooner or later. “He needed to be dragged there however with you and I pushing he had no alternative,” Ehrhart texted Warren. “Thanks on your patriotism my good friend.”
“Thanks for at all times standing up too these liberal that hate the USA,” Warren advised Ehrhart in a textual content.
Days after the sport, Olens permitted a change by the college’s athletic division to maintain cheerleaders off the sector till after the anthem, below the guise of “improv[ing] fan expertise,” in accordance with a College System of Georgia investigation into the scenario. Faculty officers insisted the change was logistical and never a results of the kneeling protest, however Olens was accused of caving to political stress and of ignoring the state legal professional normal’s workplace, which had stated the cheerleaders had a constitutional proper to kneel throughout the anthem.
The brand new coverage was scrapped after only one sport amid complaints from college students and an area civil rights group.
College students and an area civil rights group protested Olens for maintaining the cheerleaders off the sector in any respect, following native newspapers reviews concerning the textual content messages displaying Ehrhart’s stress on the college president. On Dec. 14, Olens introduced he would step down as KSU president in February.
Ehrhart was upset when he heard that some KSU college held a contented hour to herald the information. Ehrhart had been a backer of Olens’ when he was picked for the job final 12 months and had fired off an indignant e-mail to an area reporter upon studying of a petition to dam Olens’ appointment due to his anti-LGBT views. “Search a secure house you illiberal snowflakes; you aren’t going to get your means! I’ll see if we are able to discover a provider for the 33,000 pacifiers your petition signers are going to want.” Ehrhart wrote.
Despite the fact that the cheerleader controversy seems to have value Olens his job, Ehrhart has no regrets about taking over the trigger. “I clearly communicated my views as a person,” Ehrhart advised BuzzFeed Information, “which is my proper and which mirrored the sturdy majority of the individuals in my district. Before everything, I’m elected to symbolize my constituents.” He additionally stated he will not again away from the controversy over dealing with sexual assault on school campuses, saying he’ll proceed to push for circumstances to be dealt with by “regulation enforcement, not dysfunctional administrative courts in schools or universities.”
“My constituents have supported me for greater than 30 years,” he stated, “and I am very pleased with my document.” ●
Tyler Kingkade is a nationwide reporter for BuzzFeed Information and is predicated in New York Metropolis.
Contact Tyler Kingkade at [email protected]
Received a confidential tip? Submit it right here.