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Rep. Josh Zepnick on sexual misconduct accusations: "It happened and I regret it"

Posted at 9:15 PM, Dec 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-07 10:04:04-05

The state lawmaker at the center of sexual misconduct allegations spoke out for the first time on TODAY’S TMJ4 Wednesday.

"It happened and I regret it and it wasn't intended to cause anybody any harm," state Rep. Josh Zepnick said. 

Zepnick says he regrets and apologies for what happened but doesn't think he should lose his job.

Democrats have called for Zepnick to resign.

There are two sexual misconduct allegations against Zepnick from 2011 and 2015, both involve kissing without consent from two different woman.

Both remained anonymous. Neither have pursued complaints against Zepnick at the time.

The Milwaukee Democrat told TODAY’S TMJ4's Charles Benson he made mistakes but feels he deserves a chance at due process, and that people and his peers should hear both sides.

Zepnick: I believe her story and I regret it. I feel bad about it.

Benson: Do you think what you did in 2015 was inappropriate?

Zepnick: Based on the description that she gave the reporter initially, I do think it's inappropriate.

The Democratic party staffer told The Cap Times in Madison it happened at the 2015 state party convention after an intense discussion.

She said, ".. we're standing in the lobby and he gives me a hug and then he kisses me, and I just turn my head and I'm like, 'what the f---?' and he's so gross, and I'm upset."

The first incident dates back to 2011. The former legislative staffer claims Zepnick was "pretty drunk" and walked over to say hello, but grabbed her shoulders and kissed her.

He says he doesn't remember the 2011 incident.

Zepnick: When somebody says they're harmed it doesn't matter if I intended it or it was unintended or whether I remember it or don't remember it or I was sober or drinking, they deserve an apology when they ask for that.

Benson: Is there any reason to believe that you're concerned that others will come forward as well?

Zepnick: I have no reason to believe that.

Zepnick says he's been separated from his wife since 2014. He doesn't have any kids.

The Milwaukee Democrat says both situations happened when he was in the throes of alcoholism. In 2015 he was arrested for drunk driving. He says he has been sober for two years.

Benson: Are you using that as an excuse in this situation?

Zepnick: No, absolutely not.

Democratic leaders and the party have called on Zepnick to resign. He has beenstripped of all his committee assignments. He says that's unfair.

Zepnick: What I'm saying is that there needs to be some sort of process or procedure here that has some fairness and balance to it.

Benson: You said you're willing to accept some form of punishment, but not resignation?

Zepnick: Right, I don't think that, I think that that's, it's up here and what I'm talking about is over here.

As for the woman who accused him in 2015.

Benson: She may be listening, what would you say to her?

Zepnick: I would've never done that if I had exercised better judgment and not been drinking, I would never intend to harm her or cause her any distress or hardship and that I would want to be able to apologize to her in person.

Zepnick says his future should ultimately be left up to the voters. If he runs again, he would be up for re-election next year.

Both the Assembly and Senate have policies banning sexual harassment, defined as any unwelcome sexual advances. According to the Cap Times both chambers are looking into adding new training for lawmakers and employees.