Two Republicans at Oregon House said a lawyer investigating a harassment complaint about a Democratic lawmaker whitewashed concerns they shared about that lawmaker’s behavior in his report.
Representative Brad Witt, a Democrat from Clatskanie, is under investigation after a Republican lawmaker complained about texting him what he believed was a matching offer to vote for a bill that she was supporting if she was going on a date or offering a sexual favor.
Portland attorney Sarah Ryan, hired as an independent investigator, produced a 16-page report this month in which she concluded that Witt had no bad intentions and wrote that “three women who worked in or on Capitol Hill for many years “told him Witt” had never done anything to make them uncomfortable and never engaged in inappropriate or questionable conduct. Further, she wrote that the trio said they had never even heard of Witt being accused of such conduct and quoted two of them as saying the Democrat’s behavior was “beyond reproach” in them. social settings where alcohol was consumed.
But two Republican lawmakers say she did not include their testimony. They told The Oregonian / OregonLive that they informed the investigator of the suggestive comments about women Witt made to one of them and that women parliamentarians regularly warn themselves to avoid being alone. with Witt.
The investigation was opened after Representative Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, complained in April about a series of text messages received from Witt.
Breese-Iverson said Witt’s posts suggested he would trade his vote on a bill she sponsored in exchange for a date or sexual favors. Witt had suggested that the two men clarify their differences over the bill over dinner or beer, but then texted Breese-Iverson should “find something better than dinner or beer” .
Witt said he didn’t mean he would trade in his vote for a date or sexual favors. It is not unusual for lawmakers to meet with political opponents to discuss their differences and sometimes – especially before the pandemic – as these meetings take place at local restaurants or watering holes.
Ryan agreed with Witt’s assertion, but wrote that Breese-Iverson “was not unreasonable” to interpret the posts as harassment.
The report does not name the three women who told Ryan that Witt had never behaved badly towards women, or in what capacity they had worked on Capitol Hill.
Representative Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, said he told Ryan about an exchange he had with Witt the same day Witt texted Breese-Iverson.
Bonham said he was in a meeting with Republican House Leader, Representative Christine Drazan, and during the meeting he spilled water on his pants. He said that when Bonham came out of Drazan’s office, Witt was standing at a bank of elevators just outside.
Bonham said Witt saw the wetness on his pants and asked if he was going back to his office “to get your knee pads,” implying that Bonham was engaging in illicit behavior with the caucus leader.
“The audacity to tell me that,” said Bonham, who is the deputy Republican House leader. “Why is it somewhere close to the realm of the acceptable?”
Bonham said he informed the investigator of the incident, but it was not included in the report. The Oregonian / OregonLive could not independently verify the conversation between Witt and Bonham. Witt did not respond to a request for comment from The Oregonian / OregonLive.
Another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany, said she told investigator Ryan it was “common knowledge not to be alone in the room with Witt.”
Boshart Davis said she had followed this advice since arriving in Salem in 2019 and that Witt had never acted inappropriately towards her. But she says she has heard the warning about Witt “repeatedly” from other lawmakers.
She said she was surprised when the investigator’s report cited three women who said they had never heard of Witt’s inappropriate behavior, but did not mention her own comments.
“It has to be a fair and balanced process as much as possible,” said Boshart Davis. “Why were my concerns ignored?”
A lobbyist who spoke to The Oregonian / OregonLive on condition of anonymity because she feared angering lawmakers made a similar statement about Witt’s reputation for making women uncomfortable. The lobbyist also said the line in the investigator’s report that Witt’s conduct was “beyond reproach” made her “laugh”.
Ryan, the investigator, did not respond to inquiries from The Oregonian / OregonLive. She was hired by the Office of Legislative Fairness to produce the report. The acting director of that office, Nate Monson, said he could not comment on specific cases.
The House Conduct Committee will meet on June 1 to consider the investigator’s report into Breese-Iverson’s harassment complaint against Witt.
Boshart Davis said she had been in contact with Breese-Iverson to possibly testify at that meeting, but the decision to allow witnesses ultimately rests with the leadership of the committee, which is co-chaired by a Democrat and a republican.
During a preliminary hearing on the matter in April, committee members discussed whether to remove Witt as chair of the House agriculture and natural resources committee. The four representatives on the panel – two Democrats and two Republicans – decided not to take such steps, but Witt voluntarily stepped down from the role.
This time, with the investigator’s report in hand, the ethics committee could do nothing or it could make a recommendation that would be taken up by the entire House. Earlier this session, the committee recommended that the House then deport Representative Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, after several women testified that he sexually harassed them. Hernandez resigned ahead of a planned eviction vote.
Political journalist Hillary Borrud contributed to this report.
Chris Lehman [email protected]