The Oregon Legislature's Joint Committee on Conduct today began hearings on allegations against state Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-East Portland), who was accused of harassing several women who worked in politics.
On the eve of the hearings, Service Employees International Union, the state's biggest public employee labor group, which noted that 65% of its 85,000 members are women, said it wants nothing further to do with Hernandez. The letter from SEIU Local 503 executive director Melissa Unger and Local 49 president Meg Niemi to the Conduct Committee and House leadership stopped just short of calling for Hernandez's ouster.
"SEIU believes Rep. Hernandez has engaged in sexual harassment of at least two women whom he had professional contact with and used his power to threaten their careers and credibility in the Capitol," the two wrote. "SEIU will no longer allow any of our staff or members to conduct business of any nature with Rep. Hernandez and we ask that you take appropriate action to protect other Capitol staff and members of the lobby."
The Oregon Education Association went further in its response.
"The report released this week by outside investigators has confirmed that Rep. Hernandez abused his power and created a hostile environment for women working at the state Capitol," said OEA president John Larson in a Jan. 29 statement. "These abuses of power have made us lose our confidence in Rep. Hernandez, and we believe that he can no longer effectively represent the members of his district. We believe that Rep. Hernandez should step down from office."
And today, as what is expected to be several days of hearings on the report commenced, a group that included Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, Hernandez's predecessor in the House District 47 seat and a longtime fellow leader in the Latinx community, urged the committee to hold Hernandez accountable.
"The time to act is now," the letter says. "Please recommend bold and swift action in order to protect people from harassment, intimidation and abuse of power at the hands of elected officials."
For his part, Hernandez reacted to publication of the investigative report last week by Oregon Public Broadcasting and WW by saying he was the victim of a "vendetta."
"The process has not been fair, timely, nor have I been given the opportunity to speak the truth," Hernandez wrote in a lengthy Facebook post.
"The facts laid out in this report detail consensual and complicated relationships with messy endings. I made mistakes in these relationships, which I know because I have now heard fully how I made partners feel uncomfortable. I recognize that I have not always conducted myself perfectly. However, deep down I know that attempts to vilify me are misguided."
And, Hernandez vowed, he intends to continue to serve the district, which first elected him in 2016.
"It is my intention to stay in the Legislature, to remain a member of the Democratic caucus, and to bring my desire for reconciliation to my caucus, to all of my colleagues, and to everyone who feels I have caused harm," Hernandez concluded. "These rifts in the Legislature are distracting us from important work that must be done."