A member of the Oregon State Legislature, Diego Hernandez (D-East Portland) has been accused by seven women of acts of sexual harassment, including inappropriate comments and unwelcome touching, which had reportedly created a hostile work environment.
On Monday, the House Conduct Committee hastily arranged a meeting to discuss the matter, to which Hernandez was invited but declined to testify. The Committe unanimously voted to order Hernandez not to contact the complainants and not to visit the Capitol without giving 24 hours advance notice.
After the vote, Oregon’s Speaker of the House, Tina Kotek, praised the women who came forward, promising that their safety would be protected, and urged Hernandez to resign.
Hernandez, who had already taken a leave of absence from the Legislature and been removed from legislative committees, denies the charges, and claims he was contacted by someone who demanded he resign, and threatened to involve him in a scandal if he did not. He urged people hearing about the case not to jump to conclusions, and to allow the case to be investigated, reminding them of the importance of due process.
Jackie Sandmeyer, the Legislature’s equity officer, said seven women had contacted them, directly or indirectly. Sandmeyer followed the Legislature’s current procedures which call for handing conduct reports over to an outside investigator. Attorney Sarah Ryan is the outside investigator for at least two of these cases, and said one of the complaining parties told her she feared for her safety.
Hernandez has earlier been accused of other kinds of negative conduct. A woman he lived with obtained a restraining order against him after saying he had thrown objects at her while intoxicated. The order was later dismissed at the woman’s request, and Hernandez denies the charge.
In 2017, a list ranking female lobbyists in order of their physical attractiveness circulated in the Capitol. Hernandez was accused of creating it, but he demanded an investigation which found no evidence to support the claim. Hernandez said the accusation that he had written the list was part of a campaign of harassment aimed at him.
Hernandez is the only Democratic candidate on the ballot in the primary election of May 19 in a heavily Democratic district. If he does resign or is removed by the Legislature, it is unclear who will be the Democratic nominee in East Portland.
By John M. Burt