After the Oregon House Conduct Committee completed a week's worth of hearings into sexual harassment allegations against state Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-Portland), calls for his resignation or expulsion from the House intensified today.
Following testimony from five women who said Hernandez used his position in the Legislature improperly in relationships with them, the four-member Conduct Committee voted unanimously to sustain 18 findings of violations of House Rule 27, which pertains to sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace.
Today, the committee, which includes two Democrats and two Republicans, voted to recommend Hernandez's expulsion from the House.
In response to the committee's findings, Gov. Kate Brown today called on Hernandez to resign, echoing a similar request earlier this week from State Treasurer Tobias Read (both are Democrats). Numerous groups, including the state's largest public employee unions, farmworkers' union PCUN, and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, have urged him to resign.
Other lawmakers also chimed in. Senate Majority Leader Robert Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) today called for Hernandez to go, as did Salem's longest-serving and most senior lawmaker, Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem).
Courtney, a lawyer who has served since 1980 and is deeply immersed in legislative history and protocol, went further than Gov. Brown, saying if Hernandez won't resign, the House should take the step, unprecedented in Oregon, of voting to expel him.
"Rep. Hernandez's behavior was unacceptable," Courtney said in a statement. "I have the highest respect for the women who came forward…they have been beyond brave. Rep. Hernandez should resign immediately or be expelled."
Such a vote would require a two-thirds majority of the House, which means 40 members. Democrats have 37 House members and Republicans 23.
Also today, 26 House Democrats, including House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) called on Hernandez to go—a strong sign of how they would vote on expulsion.
"Rep. Hernandez has abused his role as a state legislator and, in doing so, created an unsafe and hostile work environment with his behavior. He has hurt both the women he has harassed and the thousands of Oregonians across the state who have experienced workplace sexual harassment," their letter said. "It is for those survivors and for the integrity of this legislative body that we collectively call for Rep. Diego Hernandez to leave the Legislature immediately."
Kevin Lafky, Hernandez's attorney, says his client has no intention of resigning.
Lafky pointed out the House Conduct Committee did not consider some evidence Hernandez submitted, resulting in an unfair outcome.
"When you have an unfair trial, you get a bad verdict," Lafky said, adding that voters overwhelming reelected Hernandez in November despite the allegations against him. Lafky noted that Hernandez has not been charged with any crime or sued by any of his accusers.
"The conduct he's been accused of does not merit the loss of his seat," Lafky adds.
The allegations against Hernandez became public last year, beginning with a report by WW that a former girlfriend of Hernandez had filed, then withdrew, a request for a restraining order against him. After the number of allegations increased, Hernandez said he lost some consulting work, leaving him with few employment options beyond his legislative salary. That salary, although modest at $31,200 a year plus $149 a day when the Legislature is in session, is better than nothing, and it includes generous health care and pension benefits.
Lafky says he is considering all legal options to keep Hernandez in the House. Since expulsion is a novel process, it's unclear what those options would include and an expulsion vote has not been scheduled.