Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-East Portland) is being investigated for sexual harassment by the Oregon Legislature.
The Oregon House Special Committee on Conduct today disclosed for the first time that Hernandez is under investigation for harassing seven women. It ordered Hernandez to have no contact with any women participating in the investigation. (The women were similarly ordered to have no contact with Hernandez.)
It's not clear how many of the seven women will agree to participate in the investigation, but two of them have been in touch with mandated reporters and another five went through a confidential but official process to contact legislative officials. It's also unclear when the alleged harassment took place.
The alleged harassment was both verbal and physical—it involved touching—said Jackie Sandmeyer, the interim legislative equity officer, during a virtual hearing of the House special committee.
Hernandez chose not to participate in the hearing. He tells WW that any judgment of him should wait until the investigation is complete and that he is hoping for a "fair" process.
"I have no idea what the concerns raised are or by whom," he says. "I do know that there has been an organized campaign against me recently to get me out of the office I was duly elected to and I was threatened this would happen if I didn't resign."
He said House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) had threatened him with the investigation if he didn't quit. He also said Kotek had previously threatened him after he voted against the bill to require public employees to pay more for their retirement benefits.
Kotek called Hernandez's allegation that she threatened him "absolutely false" and called on Rep. Hernandez to resign.
"I am deeply concerned that members of the broader Capitol community feel unsafe or subject to retaliation by Rep. Hernandez," she said in a statement.
"I supported Rep. Hernandez's announcement last month that he would be taking a leave of absence from his duties to seek guidance and focus on his physical and emotional health," she added. "The House Conduct Committee's action today is a very serious development. I believe Rep. Hernandez should resign from the Legislature and focus completely on getting the support he needs."
The investigation by the Legislature followed a report by WW that Hernandez was the subject of a restraining order that has since been dismissed. Hernandez has taken a leave of absence from the Legislature.
The Legislature is now investigating Hernandez and made the decision to keep the women safe for an "interim" period while Hernandez is under investigation.
The House special committee met under rules adopted after a 2017-18 sexual harassment scandal in Salem.
During that scandal, Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) was stripped of his committee assignments before he resigned. (He faced allegations he had sexually harassed multiple women, including Democratic state Sen. Sara Gelser of Corvallis.)
Hernandez also won't have any committee assignments during the interim between legislative sessions.
Kotek spokesman Danny Moran attributed Hernandez's lack of committee assignments to his leave of absence.