AGUA DULCE — Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, announced she is resigning Sunday following allegations that she engaged in a sexual relationship with a staff member emerged earlier this month.
“It is with a broken heart that today I announce my resignation from Congress. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I believe it is the best thing for my constituents, my community, and our country,” Hill wrote in a letter posted to her social media accounts.
“This is what needs to happen so that the good people who supported me will no longer be subjected to the pain inflicted by my abusive husband and the brutality of hateful political operatives who seem to happily provide a platform to a monster who is driving a smear campaign built around cyber exploitation. Having private photos of personal moments weaponized against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy. It’s also illegal, and we are currently pursuing all of our available legal options.”
The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday it had opened an investigation into the allegations.
While on Tuesday Hill denied the allegations as the result of “a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” in a letter to supporters on Wednesday she acknowledged a relationship with a member of her campaign, not congressional, staff.
“During the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage, I became involved in a relationship with someone on my campaign,” Hill said. “I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment.”
In court papers, her husband, Kenneth Heslep, sketches a different story, one in which he was rejected by an ambitious wife after agreeing to her request that he play the role of house-husband, while she pursued her career aspirations. He said she left him soon after being elected to Congress.
“Our agreement was that I would stay at home and take care of all the domestic duties and responsibilities while (Hill) worked,” Heslep said in documents filed in July in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The House voted in 2018 to prohibit sexual relationships between lawmakers and their employees.
The allegations continued, and on Thursday attorneys for Hill sent a cease-and-desist letter to a British tabloid that published nude photos of her. She had earlier contacted U.S. Capitol Police after intimate photos of her appeared on the conservative website RedState, which has published a series of articles regarding the allegations.
“I know that as long as I am in Congress, we’ll live fearful of what might come next and how much it will hurt,” Hill wrote Sunday. “That’s a feeling I know all too well. It’s the feeling I decided to leave when I left my marriage, and one I will not tolerate being forced upon others.”
When a member of House resigns before the end of their term, the U.S. Constitution requires a special election be held to fill the seat.
Although the filing period for the March 2020 primary does not open until Nov. 12, three Republicans and one Democrat have announced intentions to run for Hill’s seat.
“Katie Hill blatantly violated the trust of voters of the 25th District which is why I was the first of her opponents to call on her to resign,” said Angela Underwood-Jacobs, who has announced her intention to seek the Republican nomination in the 2020 election to win Hill’s seat.
Republican candidate from Santa Clarita Mike Garcia on Sunday said Hill “did the right thing” in resigning.
“The past week has been a complete distraction from the important work that needs to be done, and it’s time for our district to move forward and unite around a leader,” Garcia said.
Another previously declared GOP candidate, Mark Cripe, tweeted that he would be “honored and privileged” to represent the district. He issued a statement saying that Sunday’s news “affords California’s 25th District an opportunity to move forward in a positive direction, with new representation that better hears and supports all the families of the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Simi valleys.”
Hill, 32, was elected amid the 2018 “Blue Wave” that gave Democrats control of the House, becoming the first Democrat to represent the 25th District in more than half a century.
Hill beat incumbent Steve Knight, who was seeking a third term representing his hometown, 54.4% to 45.6%.
Knight posted the following statement on his campaign page: “I am looking to run and am thankful for all the calls encouraging me to return to Congress.’’
Hill’s abrupt fall came after a blazing rise in which she won the last Republican-held House seat anchored in Los Angeles County, part of a rout that saw GOP House members driven out of their seats in Southern California. Nationally, she was part of the wave that flipped the House to Democratic control. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi picked her for a coveted leadership seat. Hill also is vice chair of the powerful House Oversight Committee.
In a statement Sunday, Pelosi praised Hill for bringing “a powerful commitment to her community and a bright vision for the future” to the House but added: “She has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable. We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces.”
Hill also serves on the House Armed Services and Science and Space and Technology committees.
Citing the more than four in 10 district voters from minority groups, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, who heads House Democrats’ campaign committee, said there was “no doubt” her party would hold the district next year.
But Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota, chairman of the House GOP campaign arm, said Republicans “look forward to winning back this seat.”