TOPEKA — Sen. Mitch Holmes, a committee chairman who came under withering criticism during the weekend for a dress code targeted at women, apologized Tuesday after defending it days earlier.
“My failure to clearly specify that all conferees, regardless of gender, should strive to present themselves professionally is unacceptable,” Holmes said in a short statement.
“I apologize and meant no offense. I have decided to retract the conferee guidelines.”
Holmes, R-St. John, chairs the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee and his guidelines — which he also called rules — for witnesses appearing before the group included a direction to women.
“For ladies,” the guideline said, “low-cut necklines and mini-skirts are inappropriate.”
Asked if she was involved in Holmes’ decision to apologize, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said Holmes had spoken with fellow senators.
“I think Sen. Holmes came back to the Senate on Monday, and he had conversations with a lot of his colleagues and he personally chose, after talking to everyone, to release a statement,” Wagle said.
Holmes’ rule drew condemnation on social media but attracted national attention Friday after a Topeka Capital-Journal story. In reaction, Holmes initially defended himself and made insinuations about the patriotism of the reporter who wrote the story.
Holmes said the list — including the point about attire — weren’t enforceable rules but rather guidelines intended to help witnesses be effective.
“The guideline is just that: a guideline,” Holmes wrote Saturday on Facebook.
“It is intended to help those who testify to be effective in their presentation. This guideline has been in place for several years with no controversy. No one has ever been blocked or ever will be (except for something outlandish).”
During an earlier interview, Holmes didn’t dispute the guideline’s characterization as a rule. In the Facebook post, he suggested he hadn’t handled the numerous resulting media inquiries well.
Holmes wrote he isn’t a “shrewd lawyer” type who can formulate thoughts rapidly, and that he had made the mistake of repeating the terms used by reporters instead of clarifying.
But in a Facebook post a day earlier, Holmes wrote a reporter had decided to make an issue of the “committee rules” he used. In that first post, Holmes offered a defense and explanation of the rule.
He said several years ago, a lobbyist appeared before the committee with a neckline that extended almost to her navel.
“I added this rule out of respect for the other women in the room, and out of respect for the wives of the men in the room, including my own wife,” Holmes wrote.
In the post, Holmes also indicated an email he received suggested a rule banning men from exposing any underwear.
“Perhaps I do need a rule saying that men must have their pants up around their waists. After all, I really don’t want to see a lobbyist waddling into the committee room,” Holmes wrote.
Holmes drew criticism from several female colleagues. Four senators — two Republicans and two Democrats — made statements critical of the code.
They asked who would define low-cut and whether the rule also applied to senators.
“I am more interested in what they have to say about the direction our state should go than what they’re wearing that day,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican.