On a day when lawmakers had to battle snow and ice to reach the Capitol, the climate inside the building was only marginally less icy.
In the wake of new lawsuits naming Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) for allegedly failing to protect women from harassment, and media coverage of his similar record at Western Oregon University, Courtney's allies are making shows of support for the man who has presided over the Legislature's senior chamber since 2003.
This morning, Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Portland) penned an Oregonian op-ed defending Courtney. Steiner Hayward, who along with Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) complained in 2016 of sexual harassment at the hands of former Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), wrote that Courtney's handling of her complaints was superb.
"Courtney found every way he could to hold Kruse accountable," Steiner Hayward writes. "Courtney didn't make statements. He didn't take to the podium. He took action. In fact, he did the unprecedented. Within 24 hours of my reporting Kruse's latest unwanted behavior President Courtney stripped him of all committee assignments."
By writing the op-ed, Steiner Hayward, whom Courtney named to the powerful position of co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee this session, put distance between herself and the two senators who have been most critical of Courtney's approach to sexual harassment, Sens. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) and Shemia Fagan (D-Portland).
Meanwhile, two of Courtney's longtime allies, Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) and Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield), reportedly circulated a letter of support for Courtney, which they asked other senators to sign. (A spokesman for the Senate Democrats didn't immediately respond to a request for a copy of the letter.)
At least one Democratic senator pushed back on the letter in an email to Burdick.
"My view is that this tactic, which doesn't allow us to share and learn from one another's insights in a what that would produce the strongest, most effective position going forward, and which feels a bit like an up-or-down loyalty test that doesn't reflect the nuances of the current situation, is not as constructive as other options might be," Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) wrote today.
Golden requested a two-hour caucus meeting devoted solely to Courtney.
"Given the pressure building up around this issue, and the magnitude of damage that potential outcomes could do to our policy agenda this session, I respectfully ask that scheduling an unhurried all-caucus conversation in the immediate future be given the highest priority," he wrote.