Two Oregon Lawmakers Demoted for Rude Behavior

A leader of the Oregon Legislature demoted two lawmakers on Thursday for disrespectful and rude behavior as the statehouse struggles to make itself a more respectful workplace.

Posted: Feb. 21, 2019 4:26 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN , Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A leader of the Oregon Legislature demoted two lawmakers on Thursday for disrespectful and rude behavior as the statehouse struggles to make itself a more respectful workplace.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Portland Democrat, called a pharmaceutical lobbyist "stupid" during a health care committee hearing Tuesday on a drug pricing bill. House Speaker Tina Kotek, also a Portland Democrat, responded by removing Greenlick as chairman of the committee and from membership in the House Conduct Committee.

Kotek also removed Rep. Bill Post, a Keizer Republican, from the House Judiciary Committee after he called a state senator "cray-cray" on Twitter and sent a tweet inviting gun-rights advocates to a gun-control rally at the Capitol, with the words, "be ready, be there."

Post later called his comments a "miscommunication," but added that "free speech, whether we like it or not, is free speech."

The actions came as the Legislature's leaders are attempting to create a more respectful environment after the state Bureau of Labor and Industries said in a civil rights complaint last month that they didn't stop repeated sexual harassment by a state senator. Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Republican, resigned last year and maintains his innocence.

Greenlick apologized at the hearing for calling a lobbyist stupid. Rep. Christine Drazan of Clackamas County, a Republican on the committee, responded that lawmakers "have been through extensive training about equity and respectful workplace. We are working on issues around capitol culture and what I have seen here today troubles me deeply."

She criticized Greenlick for demeaning other people from a position of power. Greenlick shot back that it would have been better if Drazan had made her criticisms to him in private.

Republicans said Greenlick's behavior contributed to a "disrespectful atmosphere" in the statehouse. They boycotted a meeting Wednesday addressing harassment and inappropriate behavior in the capitol. They later demanded Greenlick be stripped of his leadership position.

Kotek announced the demotions in an email to lawmakers and later addressed the situation on the House floor.

"As my actions show today, I think the response to inappropriate action should be swift and as decisive as possible," she said, though she accused Republicans of overblowing the Greenlick incident for political purposes.

"The way that his actions were politicized sets a dangerous precedent," Kotek said.

House Republican Leader Rep. Carl Wilson of Grants Pass said in a statement Thursday that Republicans look "forward to working to change the culture to allow all Oregonians to feel safe and welcome in their Capitol."

On Feb. 13, Greenlick attended respectful workplace training with other lawmakers given by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Kotek's spokesman, Danny Moran.

Lobbyists and a couple of journalists attended a different version of the training the same day. It provided a glimpse into both the type of training and the situations faced by lobbyists.

Hundreds of lobbyists filled downtown Salem's Grand Theater, where Linda Li, outreach and education coordinator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stood on stage with a PowerPoint presentation.

Some of the training on recognizing bad behavior was so basic that Li acknowledged it was like teaching civility to kindergartners. She dropped a pen in front of one audience member and politely asked him to pick it up; then dropped it again and commanded him to retrieve it. "How does that make you feel," she asked.

After Li flashed a slide on the giant screen behind her that described "abusive behavior" — yelling, throwing things in anger, spreading false rumors, sabotaging work or reputation, swearing at people — one lobbyist rose her hand and said that's common behavior among lawmakers. Others in the audience murmured their assent.

Li told the audience she'd be showing the same slide to lawmakers in a different training session, and that hopefully they'd learn from it.

"This is a first step," Li said.

One lobbyist told Li that when he and his colleagues bring people to testify at committee hearings, often being inexperienced in that sort of thing, that lawmakers will sometimes criticize the witnesses for not following procedure, making them feel stupid.

"Our politics have become so degraded that people are mean to each other," another lobbyist said.

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