Rep. Norm Thurston punished by House leadership for inappropriate comments to a female staffer

With the news Tuesday that state Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, lost the vice chairmanship of a House standing committee, has confirmed that House Speaker Greg Hughes took the action over a woman’s complaint about something Thurston said to her.

It is not the first time Thurston has been warned about his conduct, is told, which was termed inappropriate by one source.

What exactly Thurston said is unclear.

But when agendas for the House Government Operations Committee came out late last week, Thurston was no longer listed as the committee vice chair, although he is still on the committee. Thurston was also apparently removed from his seat on the House Health & Human Services committee.

Answers from Hughes’ office Monday about Thurston’s demotion were inconclusive. A spokesperson said only that the speaker often makes changes in committee assignments.

And, indeed, he does.

When former House Budget Chairman Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, resigned late last year, Hughes had to make a number of committee changes to accommodate that.

The Thurston demotion comes, of course, at a sensitive time in public and private officials’ conduct toward women – the whole Harvey Weinstein, “me too,” movement.

It is unclear what impact the new issue will have on Thurston himself – will he run for another term from his Provo district this year, with the possibility of his House demotion being part of the campaign?

He could also face an ethics investigation if several House members officially call for one.

Under recently-passed ethics reforms, such an investigation would be private until an independent ethics panel issues a report – which could take weeks or months, depending on the case.

Since Thurston nor Hughes aren’t talking about specifics in this instance, it is not clear the severity of what Thurston did – or is alleged to have done.

One source said Hughes would not have taken the unusual step of taking away a House member’s vice chairmanship without good cause – and perhaps repeated attempts to curb the behavior with private meetings.

The irony of all this is that this year all legislators had to go through sexual harassment training. has confirmed that all GOP House members heard a lecture on such sensitivities during their all-day, private caucus in January.

And all lawmakers (and lobbyists) have to take an online course on sexual harassment – and pass the course – as required.

So, in theory, Thurston had at least two opportunities to learn what was and wasn’t correct behavior toward women in his public job just this year – with the Legislature being in its third week of work.

Thurston may have also had office-place harassment training as part of his private job – he is director of the Utah Health Department’s statistical unit, and at one time taught auxiliary economic courses at Brigham Young University.