Shemia Fagan Explains Why She Voted Against Peter Courtney Remaining Senate President

Newly sworn-in Portland senator says Courtney is guilty of "gross misuse of power;" Sen. Sara Gelser explains her "yes" vote.

Day one of the 2019 legislative session is generating some fireworks.

Shortly after being the lone Democrat to vote against re-electing eight-term Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) for his ninth term atop the senior chamber, state Sen. Shemia Fagan (D-Portland) filed a vote explanation.

In it, Fagan, a brand-new senator who was just sworn in today, referred to the report released Jan. 3 by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries into sexual harassment at the Capitol.

"As part of BOLI's investigation into sexual harassment and hostile work environment in the Oregon State Capitol, BOLI interviewed a former employee who testified that Senator Courtney disapproved of who she was dating and gave her an ultimatum to resign or be fired," Fagan wrote in her vote explanation. "She resigned with five months of severance, health insurance, and a promise not to sue. In short, she accused President Courtney of a gross misuse of power. I believe her. For this reason, I voted no on his nomination for Senate President."

Courtney told WW last week the woman resigned and he did nothing wrong.

Here is Fagan's full vote explanation.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), who filed a harassment complaint against ex-Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) that led to Kruse's resignation last year and who provided extensive information to BOLI investigators, provided a written explanation of why she voted for Courtney, despite her disappointment in his handling of harassment issues.

"Not quite two weeks ago, the former BOLI Commissioner issued his report regarding workplace harassment in the Oregon Capitol," Gelser wrote in her vote explanation. "Within that report were serious allegations about employment practices in the Senate President's Office.  There has been no statement or explanation to the Senate from the Senate President about these allegations as of the writing of this statement.  Further, women involved in the BOLI complaint or who have otherwise experienced harassment have told me the tone of the discussion about their experience has been hurtful and dismissive."

Gelser continued:

"As a returning caucus member, I made a commitment to my colleagues in November to support our nominee on the Senate floor today. I requested a caucus meeting where I might have been able to raise and hopefully resolve concerns that have arisen since that time, but that request was denied. I cast an Aye vote to keep my commitment to my colleagues and because no other candidate stepped forward to take on this work. I am filing this vote explanation to formally document my concern and to express my hope that the depth of this concern will be heard and met with immediate change. I hope for change in the tone of the discussion about the experiences of complainants and witnesses in the BOLI report. I hope for a full and independent investigation into the allegations that the Senate President's office made inappropriate decisions or comments regarding the dating choices of an employee. I hope to see the issue of changing our culture remain front and center until our staff tell us they feel safe, they feel heard, they feel respected and they feel like things are improving"

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