Tensions in the Oregon Senate flared this afternoon as state Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) prepared to file a resolution seeking the censure of Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and the removal of Courtney as presiding officer, a position he has held since 2003.

In an email to reporters this afternoon, Boquist explained his thinking.

"Folks," Boquist wrote to to a group of 20 reporters who cover the Capitol, "It is obvious the present Senate majority leadership is not capable of creating a safe working environment in the Legislative Branch despite the efforts of the Speaker to change the culture.  The written speech on the Floor today by Peter Courtney is unacceptable[,] as the President has always said in the past if a person reads their speech then their heart is not in it. It is time for change."

That email included an earlier message Boquist sent to all members of both chambers that listed several investigations and lawsuits in which current or former legislative staff have sued legislative leadership.

"There are five lawsuits involving equity, employment, harassment and whistleblower issues in which branch employees are on the opposing side of specific leadership," Boquist wrote. "In short, at least five women either in or from the Legislative Branch are in lawsuits against the Legislative Branch."

Ironically, Boquist in the past has worked well with Courtney and was among a handful of Republican senators who urged Courtney to run for re-election in 2018, when Courtney, now 75, was considering retiring.

Sen. Brian Boquist
Sen. Brian Boquist

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) slammed Boquist in a statement late Tuesday afternoon, accusing the Republican of seeking to retaliate against Courtney and Courtney's chief of staff, Betsy Imholt.

In November, Courtney wrote a letter to Boquist demanding he stop "hostile, intimidating and harassing" communications. At issue was a series of written communications between Boquist and Imholt over the implementation of a new pay equity law. Boquist requested information from Imholt and didn't like the responses he received. His communication grew forceful.

In a statement, Burdick says Boquist is now retaliating against Courtney for holding Boquist accountable.

"Senator Courtney stepped up to put a stop to Boquist's bullying behavior toward a female staff member," Burdick said in a statement. "Ever since that time, Senator Boquist has been going after Senator Courtney and others in a clear and transparent attempt at retaliation. This is exactly the kind of behavior that must be stamped out at our State Capitol. Senator Courtney did the right thing by standing up for the staff member and holding Senator Boquist accountable. Now Boquist is trying to punish him for it."