Political Notebook

Republican leaders at home want Mathis to resign amid allegations of sexual assault

The Tulare County Republican Central Committee is demanding the resignation of Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, who has been under fire since a blogger in Sacramento alleged he sexually assaulted a staff member during a night of heavy drinking.

A former female staffer has since gone public with allegations of excessive drinking by her former boss and a culture of bullying and sexist behavior by Mathis and others at the office.

It has also been reported that Mathis’ ex-wife alleged during their divorce that he was guilty of child abuse and neglect, allegations that Mathis denies.

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A spokeswoman for Mathis said Wednesday that the Republican political establishment in Tulare County has never liked him, and now his enemies are seeking to take advantage of negative news stories in an effort to destroy him.

“He didn’t kiss the ring,” said Jennifer Jacobs, a political consultant acting as spokeswoman for Mathis’ office. “They want their pound of flesh.”

Mathis was not available for an interview but issued a statement defending himself.

“When the party bosses are going to this length to defame me to get me out of office I must be doing something right,” he said. “I’m not a politician and did not go to Sacramento to vote exactly how the Republican Party tells me to.

“In the Central Valley you have to make the votes that are best for the people, not the party, and obviously they don’t like that I am not a puppet. No threatening resolution is going to change that.”

Mathis, who touted his experience serving in the military when seeking office, was elected in 2014 and re-elected last year. He represents Assembly District 26, which includes most of Tulare County, a slice of Kern County and all of Inyo County. Both times, he defeated Rudy Mendoza, a Republican staffer for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare.

Central Committee chairman Marian Hedstrom said Wednesday that the committee passed the resolution Tuesday night.

“It’s been very emotional,” Hedstrom said. Until now, “I have never ever been ashamed of any of our officeholders in Tulare County, Republican or Democrat.”

The resolution said Mathis is guilty of private conduct verified by multiple sources, has been accused of sexually assaulting a staff member and may be criminally charged.

The resolution also says Mathis is guilty of excessive drinking and outbursts and inappropriate behavior with young staffers.

Additionally, the resolution said he lied to the Central Committee and Republican elected officials about his votes, and used a vulgar slang term on the Assembly floor “when bragging about ignoring his constituents.”

The resolution said Mathis should apologize and resign immediately.

The resolution is baseless, Jacobs said.

“Devon never committed one way or the other” on cap and trade, she said. He voted for Assembly Bill 398 because the agricultural industry strongly supported it, and because a provision for agriculture was added at the end, she said. Mathis was not the only Valley legislator to vote for the cap and trade bill, she said.

Mathis said during debate that he voted for it to save jobs in the district.

As for the allegation by blogger Joseph Turner, executive director of American Children First, that Mathis sexually assaulted a staff member, Jacobs said no corroborating evidence has been found. When Mathis is cleared by investigators he intends to sue for slander, she said. The report by Turner names no source but said the allegation came from a reliable witness.

But, “there is not a single girl making a complaint who said she’s a victim,” Jacobs said. A lawyer for Mathis who inquired at the Sacramento Police Department was told they are investigating more important cases, she said.

Last month, Sacramento police confirmed it had started an investigation. Police are still investigating, spokeswoman Linda Matthew said on Wednesday.

Former Mathis staff member Janie Sustaita said she encountered sexism and bad behavior while working in Mathis’ district office from October 2016 to July 2017. In January she was promoted to district director but didn’t get the raise that came with the position, she said. When she complained, she was told that a male staffer was given a raise instead because he needed it and she had a “rich boyfriend,” she said in an interview. Mathis also threatened to fire her and replace her with an Army buddy, she said.

She said she witnessed excessive drinking by Mathis and would dump his drinks out when he wasn’t looking. “I was always lucky when it wasn’t an open bar,” she said.

Jacobs called Sustaita “a disgruntled employee” whose complaints about Mathis were investigated by the Assembly Rules Committee. The committee found no wrongdoing by Mathis, she said.

Mathis and his then-wife Amber Gomez divorced in 2012. They have three children. According to court documents, she reported him to Child Protective Services for allegedly throwing a butter knife at their middle son, then 3, and cutting his knee. The court file shows that Mathis was never proved to have done anything wrong, Jacobs said.

In another incident, his oldest son, who has autism and was then 6, was playing alone outside a home in Porterville when he wandered off and was found later on a freeway on-ramp. Mathis told police he knew the boy was in the front but wasn’t watching the boy because he had been busy giving a bath to another child. Police reunited the child with Mathis and ended the case.

Meanwhile, Visalia Councilman Warren Gubler has announced he will seek election to the Assembly District 26 seat next year.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold