Senate leader, lawmaker at loggerheads over pay equity documents
SALEM — Senate President Peter Courtney has directed a Republican state senator to "cease and desist" intimidating communications with other senators and legislative employees.
Courtney made the demand to state Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, in a Nov. 15 letter obtained by the Oregon Capital Bureau that cited "hostile, intimidating and harassing" communications.
Boquist denied the accusation and responded to Courtney this week in an email asking the Senate leader to apologize. In an email to other Democratic senators on Dec. 10, Boquist blasted Courtney. "I am sorry for the harshness of this email," Boquist said, warning that he might move the Senate to censure Courtney.
The Senate is scheduled to meet in Salem Friday.
In an interview Wednesday, Dec. 12, Boquist said he's been trying for weeks to get details on how the Legislature is preparing to comply with a new law that mandates pay equity. The law takes effect Jan. 1. The Republican senator said he has sought public records and submitted questions to Courtney and other legislators on the issue.
Courtney had enough last month. "Senator, in the recent past, you have communicated with members and staff in a way that creates a hostile and intimidating workplace," Courtney wrote. "Your communications have belittled and harassed staff. You must immediately cease and desist communicating in this manner."
Courtney's office didn't respond to a request for details on the conduct that triggered Courtney's unusual rebuke.
Boquist has been known to send long and detailed emails to colleagues, sometimes copying reporters who cover the Legislature. Boquist said that in September he received what he considered an inadequate response to his request for legislative documents relating to the pay equity matter. Under the new law, employers are required in certain circumstances to ensure employees are paid the same for the same work.
In October, Boquist said, he fired off 44 questions to Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. He received a response to the questions from Courtney's chief of staff, Betsy Imholt.
"I asked a list of questions, I got a list of answers back that were frankly, non-answers and they were done in the name of Peter Courtney," Boquist said Wednesday. "And he doesn't like it when I called him out asking for factual answers."
On Nov. 15, according to records obtained by the news bureau, Boquist wrote to Courtney's staff chief, referring to her as "President Imholt" and terming her answers "nothing more than political blather." That same day, Imholt asked Boquist by email to be more respectful while Courtney issued his cease-and-desist demand.
Boquist has represented the mid-Willamette Valley in the Senate since 2009, and served in the House before that. He has played an important role working with Democrats on key legislation, such as last year's transportation package, where lawmakers reached a deal to spend more than $5 billion on projects across the state.
In February, Boquist quit a bicameral committee aimed at improving the education system in protest over a tax proposal affecting small-business owners that later became law. He followed his protest by suing legislative leaders and other state officials for what he was a constitutional violation in enacting the tax.
Reporter Claire Withycombe: firstname.lastname@example.org or 971-304-4148. Withycombe is a reporter for the East Oregonian working for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group, and Salem Reporter.