By John Celock
A 26-year-old South Dakota legislator resigned Monday after admitting to having sex with two interns during his first term.
Rep. Matthew Wollman (R-Madison) said that he would be stepping down immediately from the state House of Representatives, less than a month into his second term. Wollman admitted last week to having sex with the two interns and lawmakers had formed an investigative committee into Wollman’s behavior.
“This past weekend I have put much thought into what these coming weeks would entail. I know that we as a legislative body have many important decisions to make,” Wollman wrote in his resignation letter. “Countless hours of considerations and caution will go into these determinations. I also know that although I feel extraordinarily better for coming forward and telling what is the absolute truth of the matter, that the trust of the people isn’t with me one-hundred percent as I wish it was, and that my thoughts and energy are not directed immediately to those important issues. I am without the focus that I desire.”
A joint statement from state House Speaker G. Mark Michaelson (R-Sioux Falls), Majority Leader Lee Qualm (R-Platte) and Minority Leader Spencer Hawley (D-Brookings) indicated that Wollman decided that resigning was “best for him, his fiancé, his family and the young ladies involved.”
Wollman admitted to having sex with the two interns when asked by a reporter in the Capitol last week. While state legislative rules do not prohibit sexual relations between lawmakers and interns, the Argus Leader reported that the rules do call on lawmakers to avoid sexual harassment. Wollman used the interns’ ages as part of his defense, saying that both were over 21 and that it was consensual sex.
Lawmakers formed the investigative committee in the wake of Wollman’s confession to determine if he should be disciplined, including potential expulsion from the Legislature. In the joint statement, legislative leaders said that lawmakers have an “obligation to refrain from behavior unbecoming to the Legislature and inconsistent with maintaining the public’s trust.”
The legislative leaders also said that they will be holding meetings to address the issue long term.
“We will be meeting over the coming weeks with legislators, current interns and legislative staff to discuss any improvements we can make in the legislator and employee training concerning appropriate standards of conduct and the proper reporting of potential violations of these standards of conduct as well as any recommended updates to our legislative rules,” Michelson, Qualm and Hawley said.
Wollman was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2014, following several years of service in the Marine Corps. Professionally he is a photographer focusing on unmanned aerial photography and real estate photography. He has been known as a conservative lawmaker in Pierre. Wollman had been serving on the House Appropriations Committee this year. He is a former member of the Commerce and Energy, Health and Human Services and Education Committees.
Wollman is not the first state lawmaker to be caught up in a scandal with interns. In 2008, then New York Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo) was disciplined by state lawmakers following revelations of emails between him and a graduate student intern with sexual content. Hoyt stepped down from the Legislature in 2011 following his appointment to a top economic development post in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) administration.
In 2007, then New York Assemblyman Mike Cole (R-Alden) was censured by the Legislature after admitting to sleeping in an intern’s bedroom following a sports party sponsored at an Albany bar by Hoyt. Cole denied any inappropriate contact with the intern, saying he slept on the floor of the closed-door room. Cole lost his spot leading legislative Republicans on the Assembly Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee. Cole was defeated in the 2008 Republican primary in his suburban Buffalo district.