Speaker Kotek speaks on BOLI harassment claim
The Oregon political world is abuzz over a labor complaint filed by Brad Avakian, the state's outgoing labor commissioner, alleging presiding officers and top administrative officials allowed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment to exist at the Oregon statehouse.
Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Portland, spoke with reporters late Thursday about the complaint via conference call and said she welcomed the scrutiny.
"We are trying very hard to change the culture in the capitol," Kotek said. "I am personally committed to that. I will continue to be committed to that and in terms of the complaint itself, as we stated yesterday, we welcome additional scrutiny. If the investigation helps us to have a better process, have better outcomes, I am definitely open to that. I want to be open to that kind of feedback and that's how I'm approaching the complaint right now."
State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, who is vying for Mahonia Hall this autumn against Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, leapt into the fray late Wednesday, calling on Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, to resign.
The complaint also alleges inappropriate behavior in 2015 by Courtney's communications director, and claims that legislative counsel Dexter Johnson told the woman who reported the behavior that she was not to have contact with the communications director and not discuss her allegations with anyone.
(Johnson declined to comment Wednesday other than to say that the legislature would "fully and transparently" participate in the complaint process).
Kotek said she would not resign and that she is not aware of any other harassment complaints against members of the House or Senate, outside of what was outlined in the complaint.
Meanwhile, the intra-party politics of the complaint have thus far been a source of intrigue and curiosity — and "likely will be seen by some Democrats as a parting shot at his own party," wrote OPB's Anna Griffin, who broke the news Wednesday.
Avakian lost a bid for Secretary of State to Republican Dennis Richardson in 2016 after a primary battle against two other Democrats and other unsuccessful bids for higher office.
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Labor and Industries on Thursday brushed off questions as to whether the complaint was politically motivated.
"The complaint was motivated by the two student interns and two staffers who came forward and looked to BOLI for help," said Christine Lewis, BOLI spokeswoman, in an email.
Kotek also redirected the conversation from the political aspects.
"Despite the kind of interest in the politics of this, it is not a political issue for me, this is a personal issue," Kotek said.
She said she expects recommendations from an Oregon Law Commission work group on sexual harassment, pointed to the legislature's efforts to provide another reporting option for people who want to report sexual harassment and the hiring of a diversity, equity and inclusion staffer.
Kotek said the respondents have 14 days to respond to the complaint and plan to do so. She said she was "surprised" by the complaint because her office has been working with BOLI in what she described as a "very collaborative process" to improve the legislature's sexual harassment reporting process.
In response to the claim by Avakian that the Legislature did not properly inform female interns who reported sexual harassment by Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, of their legal rights after reporting harassment, Kotek said she felt it was the "job" of the Legislature to inform them, and that they did send them a letter informing them of those rights.