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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock did not do enough to make sure that former staffer Kevin O'Brien was stopped from being put in a position to sexually harass other women.

Even Bullock agrees with us.

In an interview with The Billings Gazette on Friday, Bullock admitted that he was "naive" and didn't do enough to let O'Brien's employer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio know about the former Montana staffer.

O'Brien had been a staffer with Bullock for five years, spanning back to the governor's days as attorney general. O'Brien had later been hired at the Demorcrat Governors Association. And it was during Bullock's time at the DGA where O'Brien was accused of sexual harassment.

Yet, we have also seen how Bullock has responded to our questions about the O'Brien situation, and believe the governor's answers to our questions are, in one sense, very positive.

When being asked about O'Brien, de Blasio, the Democratic Governors Association and harassment, Bullock offered surprisingly candid, contrite answers.

Bullock told The Gazette he learned of the allegations while traveling, and had made the decision to terminate O'Brien on the spot.

Bullock also told The Gazette he didn't know what happened to O'Brien after. He learned that O'Brien became a member of de Blasio's staff after he'd been hired.

The New York City mayor's office had contacted the administration about O'Brien's tenure in Montana, but that request went through the Department of Administration, Bullock. He said he never learned about the request. Bullock said that de Blasio's own department only asked about O'Brien's tenure in Montana -- one that Bullock said was without blemish.

"During my five years with him, I had never heard any complaints of similar behavior," Bullock said.

Still, when Bullock learned that O'Brien had joined de Blasio's staff, the governor remained silent.

"I was naive," Bullock said. "I probably should have called."

While we don't know whether Montana law would have allowed Bullock to make that call -- to warn an employer after an employee had already been hired, we can say that whether the law allowed for such a thing, ethics certainly seems to call for it.

"By terminating him at the DGA, we took appropriate steps," Bullock said. "I felt sick at the realization that I hadn't done enough. Looking backward, I was wrong. But that doesn't help.

"Going forward, it is another one of those realizations and recognition that we're in the middle of an important conversation about sexual harassment and sexual assault and we have to do the right thing."

What is the right thing, we asked the governor.

"We have to make sure that men who sexually harass are not put in a position to do it again," Bullock said.

Bullock said de Blasio's claim that he lied or falsified the record is inaccurate. Bullock said he was never contacted, only his administration.

And Bullock is right: He should have done more. There are women whose lives are changed because of O'Brien's actions.

O'Brien told The New York Times he takes responsibility for his actions, which he blamed in part on alcohol.

We would point out that O'Brien should shoulder most of the responsibility for his actions. He is, after all, the one who acted.

We also asked the governor if he was certain that O'Brien acted appropriately during his time working in Montana. Bullock said his Montana employment record is clear.

"What I've read is inconsistent with the behavior I knew," Bullock said. "I asked all my senior staff if they had seen or heard anything inappropriate and they said no they hadn't."

We believe that in this day of ducking, dodging and equivocating in politics -- where nothing is anyone's responsibility -- we can give credit to Bullock. He answered our tough questions. He took responsibility.

Ultimately, his actions failed to protect others.

And yet we can't help but at least give the man credit for owning his share of the problem.

It's a sad commentary on politics when just taking responsibility for another's misdeeds is somehow worthy of praise.

Now, we expect Bullock to live up to his words -- and do better next time.

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The Billings Gazette


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