Try 1 month for 99¢

State Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, is disputing specific portions of allegations against him and questioning legislative leaders' decision to remove him from his Assembly committee assignments.

Zepnick was accused on Friday of drunkenly kissing two women without their consent at political events in 2011 and 2015. Both women requested anonymity, citing concerns with their careers. Their allegations were corroborated by friends and co-workers who said they were told about the incidents at the times they occurred.

On Tuesday morning, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, confirmed he had stripped Zepnick of his committee assignments with the approval of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. 

"I am very disappointed and disturbed by this move. I have been facing anonymous allegations all being done through news media reports," Zepnick said in a statement released Tuesday evening. "Last time I checked, there is still a U.S. Constitution that provides something called 'due process' where I have the right to defend myself." 

Zepnick issued a statement on Friday apologizing for his behavior. He said he had no recollection of the incidents, but added that as a recovering alcoholic, he has apologized for mistakes made during years of "irresponsible drinking." He said his life is "back on track" with two years of sobriety, adding that he will not resign.

"I have already issued a public apology and I have made clear that I am not resigning from my position," Zepnick said in the statement issued on Tuesday.

Hintz and his Democratic leadership team called on Zepnick to resign following the allegations. They are joined in that request by Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning and the two women who accused Zepnick of misconduct.

On Monday, one of those women — a former DPW employee — reacted to Zepnick's statements issued in response to the allegations against him by questioning his self-reflection and saying he "grossly violated me when he put his tongue and lips on my mouth and face without my consent."

"Since the 2015 convention, I've had numerous interactions with him where he would request that I smile more in his presence and I would shudder in response, remembering how his tongue was in the corner of my mouth and how powerless he made me feel," the former DPW employee said.

In her call for him to resign, the former DPW staffer said the women of the Legislature "deserve a safe workplace where they are free of his leering and predatory behavior and his constituents "deserve to be represented by someone who doesn't physically violate women."

On Tuesday, Zepnick responded to his accuser's statement in an email:

1. I did not put my tongue on any individual.

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

2. I have apologized publicly. I did not intend to and do not want to cause any harm to anyone then or now.

3. During any interaction after the 2015 convention, I never told the individual to smile at me, never pursued her, and treated her professionally.

4. I have never threatened the safety of women who work at the Capitol and reject the characterization of exhibiting 'predatory behavior' that 'physically violates women.'

Zepnick argued the voters of the 9th Assembly District should be the ones to decide who represents them, adding that he will determine whether to run for re-election in 2018 "at an appropriate time" in his life.

"Right now I am very focused on my family, as my father is dying of cancer and might not make it to see Christmas this year. My family and friends support me 200% as does my wife, who I have been amicably separated from since May of 2014," Zepnick said the statement. "I hope this unfair move by Assembly Democratic leaders is a temporary measure and I can continue serving with honor and do the job I was elected to do by the people of Milwaukee's South Side."

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.