By ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A former lawmaker told an Oregon House committee Wednesday that he was bullied by then-House Speaker Tina Kotek, the Democratic nominee for governor, to the point where he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The hearing, conducted remotely via video, was emotional, with another former lawmaker testifying that the whistleblower, former Rep. Diego Hernandez, recently attempted suicide.
“He called me,” former Rep. Brian Clem said hesitantly as he tried to compose himself. “I went to his house. This was about a month ago. He had a broken belt. Fortunately, the belt was broken or he wouldn’t be here.”
The drama comes as Kotek, a Portland progressive who was the longest-serving House Speaker in Oregon history, finds himself in a close gubernatorial race against Republican candidate Christine Drazan. The race is tighter this year in this blue state because unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, a veteran former Democratic lawmaker, is also on the ballot.
Kotek, for his part, accused Hernandez of going astray.
“Rep. Hernandez made this baseless claim just days after an independent investigator concluded that he created a hostile work environment for women at the Oregon State Capitol,” Kotek wrote to the committee.
Hernandez, once considered a young and rising political star, filed a complaint against Kotek in early 2021, alleging that she created a hostile work environment for him during the 2019 legislative session. But an independent investigation by a private attorney hired by the Legislature exonerated Kotek.
“The evidence is insufficient to substantiate Hernandez’s claim,” investigator Melissa Healy, an attorney with a Portland firm, wrote in her preliminary report.
In an Oct. 3 message to the committee, Kotek said the report “is long overdue, but I am pleased with the clear conclusion that these were unsubstantiated allegations.”
Hernandez told the committee that Kotek had angrily threatened his bill to provide driver’s licenses to Oregonians who came to the U.S. illegally unless he supported another bill to cut retirement benefits for Oregonians. state public employees, a measure that ultimately passed by the narrowest of margins.
“I think of all the messed up things the speaker said and did, the one that crossed the line is when she threatened to ruin my political career, which is going to make sure I lose my next election. She said this in anger,” Hernandez said. She said that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I am still recovering from PTSD and other traumas from my legislative experience with Tina,” Hernandez said. “To say that her bullying and her racism destroyed my soul is an understatement.”
He accused Healy, through his report, of trying to normalize behavior in which legislative leaders would be allowed to use harassment, threats, intimidation, yelling and outbursts to achieve their goals.
Under Statehouse rules, the investigation of Hernandez’s complaint was supposed to have been completed in 84 days, but it took more than a year.
Clem, who like Hernandez is a Democrat, said he had begged Healy to complete his investigation months ago because he didn’t want it to affect the election.
Hernandez, who represented working-class neighborhoods in East Portland, announced in February 2021 that he was resigning, days before the House voted on his removal. A panel of lawmakers determined that she created a hostile work environment for three women.
In her letter, Kotek said Hernandez’s complaint against her “was a blatant attempt to distract people from her own harmful behavior.”
He asked the committee to confirm the independent investigator’s findings.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Kotek’s campaign declined to comment further to reporters.
The House Conduct Committee must schedule another meeting to decide whether to accept Healy’s report or consider taking action against Kotek.
Clem said he was nervous about testifying because he feared retaliation from Kotek. He testified from South Korea, where he said he was working on a project that could create thousands of jobs in Oregon, apparently referring to plans to build a shipping container terminal at the port of Coos Bay, where Clem grew up. .
“That project has to be authorized by the next governor,” Clem said. “I don’t want my involvement (in Kotek research) to harm that project.”
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