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Silence Breakers

‘You Want to F*ck With Me Tonight?’: Horror Stories from the Texas Capitol

Groping, forced kisses, and lurid cat-calls: New accusations hit two prominent Democratic state legislators from Texas.

Lauren*, a Texas legislative intern, was standing underneath the bright blue-and-red neon sign of The Continental Club, a famed Austin bar frequented by schmoozing politicians, lobbyists, and reporters.

That week in May 2013 was filled to the brim with end-of-session (“sine die”) parties, and Lauren was with a group of other interns on South Congress when Democratic state Rep. Borris Miles pulled up.

According to Lauren, Miles leaned out of the carriage he was riding in and pulled out a large roll of money. He handed “maybe $500” to an intern and then looked at Lauren.

“You know how you have the roll of hundreds that you see on TV? It was like that,” Lauren told The Daily Beast.

“I said, ‘Hi Representative, how are you?’ Then he slowly looked me up and down, counted out more money, reached out his hand and said, ‘Bitch, you want to fuck with me tonight?’

“I said ‘No, thank you’ and physically stepped back,” Lauren recalled. “I didn’t want to be rude to him. I remember his intern pacifying him and saying, ‘It’s time to go.’

“Everyone was just shocked that he said that—that he cussed at me and that he was offering me money. It was outrageous,” she continued. “I just remember thinking, ‘I need to go, and I need to not be here anymore.’”

Chris*, a Democratic state representative who asked not to be named out of fear for his personal safety, confirmed Lauren’s contemporaneous account of her story to The Daily Beast. (Chris is in the same party as Miles, represents a district geographically removed from Miles’ district, works in a different chamber, and has never run against him.)

“At some point that night, I got a call or text message from [Lauren],” he recalled. “She said Borris Miles was at The Continental Club and that he had propositioned her. I didn’t quite understand the whole scenario until later, but I knew that she was not comfortable and [she] was not good.”

Chris and his chief of staff told The Daily Beast that they received the call and then went to pick up Lauren from The Continental Club. In separate interviews, all three of them said they spent the rest of the night drinking together in a group.

Chris’ chief of staff said, “I remember we asked her whether she wanted us to do anything about it, but at the time she’d just said, ‘No, let’s get out of here. I’m not going to see him again.’”

Sarah*, who worked with Lauren in Chris’ office, told The Daily Beast that she was informed about the incident the following morning.

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“I remember thinking at the time: Why would you say something like that to a young woman who is literally doing nothing to you?” Sarah said. “I was surprised that it was so open, like he did it in a public place. That kind of blew my mind, especially because he’s a lawmaker.

“It’s not a sexual innuendo or just a guy seeing if you’re up for something—it’s far beyond that,” Sarah continued. “In my opinion, he’s going out of his way to intimidate and victimize young women at the Capitol.”

Neither Borris Miles nor his office had responded to multiple requests for comment by press time.

UPDATE: In a statement released Thursday night—more than 24 hours after an initial request for comment—Miles said he will continue to fight for the people “until they decide otherwise.” He added, “I have made powerful enemies who will go to any length to destroy and disrupt my service...I will not continue to address anonymous accusations that attack my personal and professional character as an effective lawmaker.”

“It Could Blow Your Brains Out.”

Now a state senator, the mustachioed Miles is regarded as a powerful force in Texas. Past birthday and fundraising events for him have been hosted by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Al Green (D-TX), and a number of high-ranking Texas legislative officials.

The insurance business owner and real estate developer is a native Houstonian and a former law enforcement officer. He owns a cigar bar in Houston, and he suffers from sickle cell anemia. (Sickle cell anemia has a median life expectancy of 42 years for men in the U.S.)

“Because of the short mortality rate,” the 52-year-old once told the Houston Chronicle, “I’ve tried to get things done, not tomorrow, but today.”

But by 2013, Miles was also well-known in the state for a handful of scandals, including in April 2008 when he was indicted on two counts of deadly conduct involving a night when he was accused of pulling a gun on a Texas Southern University regent and his wife in a lounge during a Rockets game.

During the trial, the couple said that Miles waved the gun around, pointed it at a woman, and put it to his own head.

“He said it could blow your brains out,” a woman named Kym Jackson testified, according to the Houston Chronicle.

In the other episode, Miles allegedly crashed a party at the St. Regis Hotel, forcibly kissed a woman, and planted a Godfather-style “kiss of death” on the cheeks of a local businessman while brandishing his weapon. The man hosting the party pressed charges after Miles allegedly said, “You don’t know what I’m capable of doing.”

Miles’ defense attorney, Rusty Hardin, claimed that members of Houston’s African-American business community were orchestrating a campaign to remove Miles from office and ruin his insurance business by lying about what happened.

Miles was acquitted on both counts at a January 2009 trial.

Art-stealin', gun-wieldin’ state Rep. Borris Miles earned quite the reputation for himself,” the Austin Chronicle wrote, in a 2017 round-up of state political scandals. “The Harris County Dem is best known for removing art from a Capitol art exhibit and whipping out weapons at private parties.”

Two separate shootings have been reported at Miles’ home, including one in 2007 and one in 2017. In the first incident, Miles shot and wounded a man who was allegedly stealing copper from his home, which was under construction. In the second, thieves allegedly stole guns and jewelry and held his grandfather at gunpoint.

A few years later, in 2015, Miles allegedly threatened to “beat up” a plainclothes Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who was protecting the attorney general.

“Rep. [Scott] Turner got Rep. Miles seated back at his own table and attempted to talk him down,” the officer said in a DPS report, according to the Texas Tribune. “Rep. Miles continued on with the profanity towards me and threatened to beat me up.”

The Austin American-Statesman wrote that the incident “cement[ed]” Miles’ image as “the hottest head and the quickest on the draw” under the pink dome.

(Miles told the Texas Tribune that his version of the event in question was “much different.”)

When reached on Tuesday, Turner, who is now retired, said “the book is closed” on that story and refused to discuss it beyond confirming the Tribune’s writeup.

Meanwhile, Chris recently told The Daily Beast: “I’m physically afraid of Borris Miles.”

“We Need to Get the Hell Out of Here.”

In May 2013, Chris’ office and others in their part of the Capitol were hosting themed parties with food and alcohol. In his office, Lauren and Sarah did the organizing.

“At some point, a handful of members, including myself, went into another member’s office,” Chris said. “As we’re just having a conversation—just a normal conversation—[Miles] just kept fumbling in his suit pocket, and he would pull out this small handgun.

“It was like a nervous tick,” Chris added, “He’d take it out, look at it, put it back in his pocket.

“That was the end of the evening for me. I went back into my office and told my staff it was time to go home. Nothing good could have happened there,” he said.

Chris’ chief of staff and Lauren both confirmed that incident—that Chris came back into his office and ended the party due to fear over Miles’ gun—in separate interviews to The Daily Beast.

“I remember my boss coming back and saying, ‘Yeah Borris Miles is over there and has a gun out,’” said the chief of staff. “The quick consensus was that we need to get the hell out of here.”

He added, “[Miles] was known to be intimidating. No laying of hands on anyone, but certainly trying to be physically intimidating—he’s a bully.”

Sarah, who helped plan the party, was not in attendance. But she said the next morning, when she asked how it had gone, “[Chris] was a little hushed about it. He said something like, ‘[Borris Miles] had a gun, and we shut down the party at that point. It was scary and everybody went home.’”

Chris warned his staffers early on about Miles because he wanted to make sure they understood not to be around him alone, she said.

“There’s nothing he could gain by warning us that this guy was dangerous other than for our own protection,” Sarah added.

Chris said that was because he had witnessed so much inappropriate behavior, he didn’t want to put his employees at risk.

“There a zero percent chance other people aren’t aware of this,” he added.

One time, Chris said, he “witnessed [Miles] catcalling women in Downtown Austin on the way back from a Spurs game, and there had to have been at least 15 or 16 other members that were there because it was a member event.”

The Spurs had played the Lakers that April, and the lawmakers went together to San Antonio to watch one of the games. “As we’re driving back towards the W, he’s hanging out of the open door of the bus and shouting at women,” said Chris.

Chris could not recall the catcalls specifically but said, “It was not something that I would want shouted at anyone.”

Chris’ chief of staff confirmed to The Daily Beast that he heard about the alleged catcalling the next morning.

Another Democratic state representative, who asked not to be named, said she was very aware of Miles’ reputation and echoed Chris’ portrayal of the state senator.

“People are afraid of him,” she said.

“He Offered to Buy Her a Drink, Kept Trying to Kiss Her.”

Ben*, a former staffer who recently worked in the Capitol and “spent a lot of time with Miles,” said he witnessed the then-state representative “forcibly kiss” at least one woman at the W Hotel.

“He offered to buy her a drink, kept trying to kiss her, and she kept trying to push him away,” said Ben. “He kept laughing about it.

“It was so creepy, and he had this big smile,” said Ben. “Borris loves the W Hotel, and he has a tendency to force himself upon women at bars and kiss them or grope them. He’ll tell them that he is a higher elected official than he actually is.”

The former staffer said he repeatedly witnessed Miles hitting on women who were interns or lobbyists—even his own staffers.

“You’re caught off guard by most of this stuff—like, ‘what in the world am I supposed to do right now,’” said Ben. “More often than not, I just found myself being stuck.”

Ben also confirmed that, while working in the Capitol, he had heard the story about Lauren and the proposition with the dollar bills.

Like Chris, Ben told The Daily Beast he was afraid that if Miles found out he had spoken out against him, he would retaliate against him either physically or professionally.

“He’s a scary dude, which is all the more reason he thinks he could get away with what he does,” Ben continued, referencing the many occasions when Miles has been accused of brandishing his handgun in social settings.

“He also has a tendency to call women out of their name when they turn him down,” he said. “‘Bitch,’ ‘ho,’ ‘whore.’ He doesn’t like being told ‘no.’

“There’s no man on this earth like him,” said Ben. “It’s made him a phenomenal politician when it comes to advocating for the rights of people, but it carries over to more problematic areas of his life.”

“It Was Weird and Obviously Gross.”

When Heather* first covered the Texas Legislature as a journalist in 2011, she was repeatedly targeted by Miles, she told The Daily Beast in a story published last month.

Late one night when the legislature was in session, Heather was reporting on HB 400, which would have scrapped Texas’ law mandating class size ratio. Miles famously used a point of order to defeat the bill, landing him the title of Star of the 2011 Legislative Session by the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

Heather said she had been trying to get details about the bill negotiations, when that night, around midnight, Miles cornered her in a hallway and forcibly kissed her outside the House chamber.

“It happened quickly,” Heather said, noting that Miles laughed afterward. “I think he thought it was hilarious.”

“He’d said several times already, ‘If you go out to dinner with me, I’d be happy to give you the details,’ and I’d sort of laugh it off but it was weird and obviously gross.”

Jeri Brooks, a spokesperson for Sen. Miles, issued a statement to The Daily Beast after that story ran, calling the allegations “unfounded and implausible.” She added, “Not only did the alleged incident not occur, but Sen. Miles’ committee assignments and direct responsibilities during the 2011 session were not related to education.

“To charge that the alleged activities occurred in full view of members, House staff, lobby and fellow reporters outside the House chamber but remained unreported for six years is simply not credible,” Brooks said.

Heather’s editor at the time confirmed that she told him those same details of her story on the night of the alleged incident. In an interview with The Daily Beast, that editor noted that he was told before that night that “Miles had been propositioning her,” which he said then escalated to him “pursuing her around the House floor.”

In 2007, when Margaret*, a political consultant, was working in the Capitol, she told The Daily Beast that she walked into Rep. René Oliveira’s office, where Miles was chewing a cigar. She stood in the doorway, and Miles allegedly looked her up and down slowly. Then he touched her hip, and complimented her breasts, she said.

“After that, I just avoided him,” she told The Daily Beast.

Margaret’s friend, former Texas political reporter Karen Brooks, said she remembered speaking to Margaret years ago about how she felt uncomfortable around Miles.

“Her complaint was that he always looked at her boobs and never looked at her,” said Brooks. “He used to do that a lot to people.

“It was pretty typical of him to check you out head to toe when he was talking to you, and I avoided him because I didn’t like the vibe I got from him.”

“He Put His Tongue Down My Throat.”

Of course, Miles isn’t the only lawmaker in the Capitol with a reputation for such alleged harassments.

Brooks, who for years reported for The Dallas Morning News, told The Daily Beast last month that “lecherous” men in Texas state politics regularly and repeatedly propositioned her during her 16 years covering the legislature.

Four years before her run-in with Miles, Margaret says she was walking up a set of stairs in the Capitol wearing a polka-dot shift dress with a short-sleeved jacket. She was walking toward Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s office when she passed then-House member Carlos Uresti. The Democrat stopped her and allegedly said, “I can tell you’re wearing a thong, is it polka-dots to match your dress?”

“I remember being horrified,” she continued. “I don’t remember if I said ‘No’ or ‘It’s none of your business,’ but I ran up the stairs.”

(Margaret told The Daily Beast that Uresti could not, in fact, tell what kind of undergarments she was wearing.)

Brooks told The Daily Beast she was informed about the story of the polka-dot dress run-in with Uresti more than 10 years ago.

“It was cringey,” Brooks said, recalling the details of the alleged incident.

But that was just one of many moments, Margaret claims.

“[Uresti] was one of the worst,” she continued. “He would check me out all the time… He gave me inappropriate hugs. He put his hands on me, he ogled me. I would not get in an elevator with him. If members were having dinner and he was going to be there, I stopped going.

“It was really scary and really uncomfortable,” she said.

Uresti issued a statement to The Daily Beast on Wednesday evening, calling all the allegations against him “unfounded” and “erroneous.”

“Sexual harassment has no place in the Capitol or any workplace,” he wrote. “I will be joining my colleagues to implement a comprehensive sexual harassment policy and trainings in the Texas Senate as soon as possible.”

Steve*, a Democratic staffer who began working in the statehouse in 2013 said, “The first time I ever saw Carlos Uresti was the first day of session party. He was sitting with a young woman on his lap. I’m pretty sure she was a staffer.”

By the time Steve witnessed this alleged incident, Uresti had moved on to the state Senate.

“Everybody kind of just rolled their eyes,” said Steve. “There was this attitude of, ‘That’s Uresti.’ Right away I was seeing the stereotype of the Texas legislator coming to life right in front of me.

“This wasn’t like they were hiding in the back room or anything,” Steve said.

UPDATE: After publication, Senator Uresti’s office provided Facebook posts showing he was with his wife at an Austin dinner on the night in question. His spokesperson could not confirm whether Uresti or his wife attended the session opening party at which the alleged incident occurred but said they were together the entire night.

Such behavior was apparently witnessed by others, as well. Dave Mann, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, said he knew from at least one reliable source at the Capitol that the state senator “was known to hit on female staffers and used them to help him meet women.” (Full disclosure, this reporter used to work with Mann at The Texas Observer.)

And, of course, women reporters were not immune to such advances.

“I was one of the youngest women on the press corps,” said Rachel*, a recent graduate who began working as a reporter in the statehouse in the mid-2000s. “It was kind of a struggle to get people to talk to me, but I did a good job.”

Uresti, who was at the time still a state representative, was “very flirtatious from the beginning,” Rachel told The Daily Beast. “There were all these stories about him and young staffers at the Capitol. I knew that this guy was a sleazebag, but I thought, ‘I can handle it.’”

Rachel said she frequently responded to Uresti’s inappropriate comments by laughing it off or by making a joke in response. He was married, so she says she sometimes barbed back by saying, “‘I don’t think your wife would like that.’”

Then, one night, legislators were trying to make some kind of last-minute deal and Rachel wanted to get more information about it. She and Uresti went out for happy-hour drinks so that she could get details about the legislation.

“He was super flirtatious,” she said. “He put his hands on my thigh, and I kept trying to bring the conversation back to work stuff.”

At some point, she said, “‘Well, I need to go home,’” and the lawmaker walked her to her car.

Before she could get inside, Rachel says the lawmaker kissed her.

“He put his tongue down my throat,” she said. “I don’t remember how long it was or even if I said anything. I think I pushed him off and got in my car.”

Uresti denied this allegation to The Daily Beast.

Afterward, Rachel says she somberly sat on her steps and thought about what would happen if she reported it.

“Immediately, my thought was, ‘If this comes out, it’s going to make me look really bad.’ That’s what makes me angry, even today. He knew that, and he played on that,” she said, adding that she didn’t want to be thought of as a person who couldn’t handle the world of political journalism.

“There will be questions about your behavior, your dress, your mannerisms, your journalism skills,” she said. “I just felt like the risk was too great that people would write me off, even if they believe me, as someone who was too difficult to deal with.”

All of her male colleagues went out for drinks with legislators, she explained, “But the time that I did what all of my male colleagues did repeatedly, this happened.

“I thought I could handle it, but he knew I wasn’t going to do anything about it. And he was right,” she said. “Later on, it was like we had this sick understanding—it’s not like I was going to say anything either. What makes me angry is that calculation he made and that I played by that.

“There’s just such a thing with women, especially with young women reporters,” Rachel said. “You’re fighting so hard for credibility. You’re not just a ditz. You’re a serious person, and you can handle serious matters. So when something like that happens it just kind of deflates you.”

Rachel’s longtime friend Claire*—a Democrat active in Texas politics who is married to a staffer at the Capitol—confirmed that Rachel told her about the alleged incident soon after it happened.

Claire told The Daily Beast that Rachel first told her the story about the alleged kiss more than 10 years ago, but says she had also been aware before that night that Uresti subjected Rachel to “constant harassment.”

“He made inappropriate comments to her and held hostage information so that he could flirt with her,” said Claire. “He was just really aggressive with her. The way he talked to her in public was inappropriate.”

Claire said she also witnessed the two interact a few years ago at the Texas Tribune Festival.

“He was just way too close, and she was very uncomfortable,” Claire said. “She froze up; she leaned back.

“He has no shame,” she said. “I don’t even know if he understands. He’d touch her shoulder. He’d stand less than six inches from her. The body language was disgusting.”

Separately, Uresti is facing 22 charges against him, including securities fraud and wire fraud, involving a now-defunct oil field services company.

Prosecutors allege that he was involved in Four Winds Logistics LLC, which operated as a Ponzi scheme that cost investors millions of dollars. He has pleaded not guilty, and the trial date is set for Jan. 4. In another case, Uresti is facing criminal charges related to alleged kickbacks from county jail contracts.

“Women Have a Place and Ought to Stay There.”

The Goddess of Liberty sits atop the state dome and yet in the halls of the Capitol, a former House speaker once said (according to the famed #txlege Twitter account The Interim), “I‌f you bait a trap with pussy, you’ll catch me every time.”

In the course of reporting this story, more than a dozen sources credited unseemly behavior in the legislature with the long hours and heavy drinking by many of the out-of-town elected officials.

“If you survive it a moral person, in my opinion you will survive anywhere in the professional world,” the unnamed author of The Interim said, noting that those words were told to him long ago by a former lobbyist at the legislature.

To navigate that environment, women in Texas’ statehouse created their own online whisper network to help protect themselves—more than a year before the bombshell allegations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the now-infamous “shitty media men” list. The Daily Beast first reported on the Texas Legislature’s list of “bad men” last month.

Several women leaders in the Capitol interviewed by The Daily Beast have since said they were unaware of the spreadsheet, called the “Burn Book of Bad Men,” which at the time accused 38 men of behaviors ranging from pay discrimination and creepy comments to sexual misconduct. The unknown number of women who contributed to the document did so anonymously.

But despite the pervasive sexism and harassment in the state house, Democratic Rep. Donna Howard recently told The Daily Beast that recent stories about sexual harassment inside the Capitol still caught her by surprise.

“I feel very naive,” Howard said. “I’ve always heard stories, but it appears to be more pervasive and more assaultive than I had imagined.

“I wasn’t as astutely aware as I should have been about how these things are actually happening to women journalists and lobbyists,” she continued. “Women who need to have access to do their jobs are being put in the position of having to accept a certain amount of sexually aggressive behavior.”

Even still, Howard says she isn’t sure if she feels comfortable telling women to come forward if there isn’t a judicial process they can trust.

“If you’re going to step up, you need to know that it’s going to be taken seriously and something’s going to be done with the complaint,” Howard told The Daily Beast. “If there’s not a process that gives you a direct course that’s going to be followed with certainty that’s going to be investigated, then no—I would be hesitant to be encouraging.”

The Texas Tribune reported last month that both chambers in the Texas statehouse have had sexual harassment policies since 1995. Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw told the news site that in the Senate, a lawmaker may be reprimanded publicly—or privately—if an investigation determines that they sexually harassed someone. In the lower chamber, the state Constitution reportedly empowers lawmakers “to punish a member for disorderly conduct and, in extreme cases, to expel a member,” according to Jon Schnautz, the chamber’s ethics adviser.

Following reporting on these issues from The Daily Beast and the Texas Tribune, members of the Texas House approved a new policy on sexual harassment last Friday.

The updated improved policy provides more details about the actions that would be considered sexual harassment, strengthens protections against retaliation from the accused, and names specific steps for victims and witnesses to report such behavior.

“One of the things the women were particularly concerned about is making sure this is a policy that shows the respect that this situation deserves,” Howard said at Friday’s hearing. “That it gives enough information that a person feels comfortable in knowing that if they do find themselves the subject of harassment, that they have a policy that gives them clear guidance and also gives them some certainty that there will be action taken.”

The new policy will also reportedly mandate that employees and staff in the House participate in anti-discrimination and anti-sexual harassment training before January 2018, according to House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren. Notably, that training cannot be required of specific lawmakers.

Though Geren initially told the Tribune in November that he had never received any complaint regarding sexual harassment, he changed his story last week, telling reporters he has received “a few” over the years.

“There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any,” Geren had told the Tribune in November. “I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”

He later clarified to the Tribune: “Nothing’s been in writing, that’s typical in these cases. Women choose to remain anonymous. They’ve come forward and gone through the details with me, and I’ve investigated it and we’ve resolved it.”

Despite the existing and shifting policies, former and current employees in the Texas statehouse have expressed little to no confidence in those processes in interviews with The Daily Beast.

Famed former Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis told The Daily Beast that she faced more discrimination than harassment during her time in the Capitol, but said that she was groped at least one time by a Republican state representative when she was first elected.

Davis said she was at a political event, when a man reached forward and cupped her breast. Davis, who believed the newly elected House member did not know she was a state senator, also told the Texas Tribune about that incident last month.

“It wasn’t an accidental brushing,” Davis told the Tribune. “It was a purposeful touching of my breast.”

Sitting in her Austin office, while Davis finished up tacos and spoke over her snoring dog, she told The Daily Beast that she was able to gain her own sense of private justice in that moment. But she also acknowledged how rare that is.

“He didn’t pass a bill until he came and apologized to me—to my face—on the senate floor,” she said. “I had a way of holding him accountable for behaving inappropriately. But I am aware of the fact that I had a power that many young women working in the Capitol do not.

“For some of these men, there’s a perspective and an attitude that women have a place—and ought to stay there,” she said. “If we created an accountability for sexual misconduct and harassment and discrimination, in the same way that we deal with ethics violations, then I think we’d create an outward facing method of holding people accountable.”

Even with those new potential policies, State Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevárez acknowledged that to constituents, such procedures must appear glacially slow.

“With what happened to Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein, that immediacy compared to an elected official—it must seem very alien to a lot of people,” Nevárez told The Daily Beast.

“You would hope that because of what we’ve seen, that women are more confident coming forward now,” he continued. “I don’t know if it matters how many allegations there are—if there’s one or five. It’s about how credible they are.

“It’s hard for me to disbelieve a woman when she comes forward,” he continued. “Intuitively, I understand the courage it takes to come forward, and I have a hard time believing somebody would do it maliciously.”

Everyone is entitled to due process, said state Rep. Ina Minjarez. “But sometimes there’s an allegation that’s just so egregious that a member must be called to step down.”

*Several of the people interviewed for this story asked not to be named, as they still work in politics or journalism and fear either physical or professional retribution for coming forward.