A former lawmaker told a House committee in Oregon that he was bullied by then-House Speaker Tina Kotek, the Democratic candidate for governor, to the point that he suffers from PTSD.
The meeting comes as Kotek, a Portland progressive who has been the longest-serving speaker of the House in Oregon history, is in a tight race for governor against Republican incumbent Christine Drazan and incumbent Betsy Johnson.
Kotek, in turn, accused former representative Diego Hernandez of backing down.
“Representative Hernandez filed this unsubstantiated complaint just days after an independent investigator concluded that she created a hostile work environment for women at the Oregon State Capitol,” Kotek wrote to the committee.
Hernandez, once considered a young and rising political star, filed a complaint against Kotek in early 2021, alleging that she created a hostile work environment for him during the 2019 legislative session. But an independent investigation by a private attorney hired by the legislature exonerated Kotek.
Hernandez announced his resignation in February 2021, just days before the House of Representatives voted to impeach him. A panel of lawmakers found that he created a hostile work environment for the three women.
“The evidence is insufficient to support Hernandez’s complaint,” investigator Melissa Healy, a lawyer with a Portland firm, wrote in her draft report.
“This report is long overdue, but I am satisfied with the clear conclusion that these allegations were unfounded,” Kotek said in an Oct. 3 letter to the committee.
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Under Statehouse rules, the investigation into Hernandez’s complaint was supposed to be completed within 84 days, but it took more than a year. Hernandez told the committee Kotek angrily threatened his bill to issue driver’s licenses to Oregonians who came to the U.S. illegally. unless he supports another bill to cut retirement benefits for state employees — a measure that ultimately passed by the narrowest of margins.
“I think that of all the crazy things the speaker has said and done, the one that crossed the line was when he threatened to ruin my political career and make sure I was voted out of office in the next election. He said it out of anger,” Hernandez said.
She said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m still recovering from PTSD and other trauma from my legislative experience with Tina,” Hernandez said. “To say that his abuse and racism destroyed my life is an understatement.”
Through his report, he accused Healy of trying to normalize behavior in which legislative leaders are allowed to use insults, threats, intimidation, and yelling to achieve their goals.
In his letter, Kotek said Hernandez’s complaint against him was “a blatant attempt to distract the public from his harmful behavior.”
He asked the committee to confirm the independent investigator’s findings.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Kotek’s campaign declined to comment further to reporters.
The conduct committee did not make a final decision Wednesday. It must schedule another meeting to decide whether to accept Healy’s report or consider taking action against Kotek.
The Statesman Journal contributed to this article.