Oregon Democratic Party Chair Warns Senate Democrats of “Mounting Concern” About Response to Sexual Harassment

Jeanne Atkins says grass roots Dems responded to Senate President Peter Courtney's speech last week with "alarm and confusion."

Jeanne Atkins, the normally low-key chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Oregon, informed the Senate Democratic caucus yesterday that the failure of the state's dominant party to address sexual harassment is causing "mounting concern" among grassroots Democrats.

"It is with some urgency that I write to implore you as Oregon Senators to take whatever steps are necessary to unite around a strong message of your committment to the eradication of discrimination and harassment in the state Capitol," Atkins wrote in a March 4 letter to the Senate Democrats.

“I must report to you that among grass roots Democratic activists there is a mounting concern that sufficient understanding of the urgent priority of achieving these goals and a sufficiently unified commitment to improvements of working conditions in the Capitol is not being reflected in media accounts, public statements or in individual public communications,” Atkins continued. “They fear that concern about position and authority, and division among the ranks is undermining the public message that is so very necessary.”

Atkins, who began her career as a lawyer for the Women's Equity Action League and later served as chief of staff to then House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D-Portland) and secretary of state from 2015 to 2018, has deep experience and contacts in Oregon politics, including at the county party level.

Social media communications show that activists in at least three county parties—Multnomah, Clackamas and Yamhill—have been discussing a no-confidence vote on Courtney, whose failure to respond swiftly and forcefully to sexual harassment is a central feature of the current scandal but goes back many years.

Related: Peter Courtney's Failure To Protect Women From Sexual Harassment Goes Back Decades.

Atkins indirectly refers to a four-minute speech Courtney gave last week on the Senate floor. Having been urged to address the sexual harassment issue publicly, he read prepared remarks and offered only one concrete example of how more than a year of investigations, lawsuits, and harassment training had changed his approach:

"I myself found the training very helpful," Courtney said in his speech. "I even started to implement it in my office in terms of saying things like 'hello,' when I come in the morning, and 'goodbye" when I leave.'

Related: In Floor Speech, Senate President Peter Courtney Addresses Harassment Scandal.

"It is with alarm and confusion that they [grassroots Democrats] hear it being reported that new commitments to politely greeting staff are described as significant change," Atkins wrote. "They understand that experiences vary among women in the Capitol but are frustrated to hear the accounts of any woman being disputed or dismissed."

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