State Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-East Portland) has been cleared of anonymous rumors that he maintained a list of female lobbyists during the 2017 session, ranking them by "attractiveness and certain physical attributes."
The legislative counsel's office notified Hernandez in a Sept. 15 letter that after interviewing 21 people, including lawmakers, legislative staff and lobbyists, that it could find no substantiation for a rumor that apparently began circulating in May.
"Everyone acknowledged hearing of the accusation alleged in the rumor," wrote Deputy Legislative Counsel Jessica Santiago. "However, there was insufficient corroborating evidence to identify the source of the underlying rumor. Thus, based on the interviews that we conducted, we were unable to positively identify the source of the rumor and could not verify the accusation alleged in that rumor."
Put simply, Santiago writes, the "accusation was false."
In her letter, Santiago notes that two people she sought to interview were less than fully cooperative, "one of whom outright refused to participate and one of whom only provided a statement through her attorney." Santiago's letter does not name those people or any of those who agreed to be interviewed.
Hernandez, who is serving his first term in Salem, requested the inquiry in late June in an effort to dispel a whisper-campaign against him.
"I have been the target of harassment, bullying and racism, and a victim of an ugly campaign of rumors," Hernandez said in a statement on Tuesday.
He says he believes his skin color as well as his vocal stance on equity issues prompted what Santiago's letter termed "rumormongering."
"I strongly believe that I was targeted not only because of the color of my skin, but also because of the issues I fought for," Hernandez said. "This session, I was a proud advocate for immigrant rights and their privacy, cultural competency in higher education, Ethnic Studies in K-12, and other issues I care deeply about. Because of this, I was warned that I was 'coming on too strong,' and that I should "watch my back.'"
Hernandez added that he thinks the rumors about him are part of Salem's culture.
"This incident is a symptom of larger institutional problems at our State Capitol," he said.
"It reveals that the Capitol is a place where discrimination, harassment, misogyny, and bullying behavior exists and all too often goes unchecked. I made the decision to respond to these awful rumors in a public way because I want to change this institution for the better."