Protect legislative interns and other Capitol workers


by Dan Lucas

I saw a notification recently from the Oregon Legislature that intern positions were available for the upcoming session. It made me cringe — I don’t feel there are adequate safeguards in place yet for it to be a safe workplace environment for young Oregonians to work in.

One of our daughters was fortunate enough to work as an intern for several dedicated and very ethical Republican state representatives while she was in her senior year of college. Not everyone has been that lucky.

Another young woman worked as an aide to a former deputy House Republican leader and had a very different experience. She would later report to the Oregon Department of Justice and Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office that the legislator had given her alcohol when she was underage, pressured her to have sex, and kept her on the public payroll after she ended the relationship with him. She also believed there was an initial incident where her drink had been tampered with.

When Willamette Week broke the story, the legislator stepped down from his leadership roles and decided not to seek re-election. However, there weren’t any calls from within the Capitol for an ethics investigation or for him to resign. He served until the end of his term. I knew both the young woman and the former deputy House Republican leader. I was appalled by how poorly everyone handled the young woman’s allegations when they came out.

The state Department of Justice behaved like the epitome of lazy, uncaring government workers. I have no issue with finding that either too much time had passed or that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of a crime, but I was angry when I read through the report and saw how they sent this shattered young woman packing without any referrals to the Bureau of Labor and Industries or someone else who may have been able to help her. Additionally, the apparent obtuseness of the investigators to victims of sexual harassment or sexual predators was disappointing.

Then there was the Oregon Legislature. Willamette Week reported back in 2012 that “Oregon House rules prohibit workplace harassment, including ‘any threat or insinuation, either explicitly or implicitly, that a person’s refusal to submit to a sexual advance will adversely affect that person’s employment, evaluation, wages, duties, work shifts, or any other condition of employment or career advancement.’”

None of that supposed protection was ever evident for the young woman. Nor was it evident for the other rumored young victims. I later learned that leadership knew of other alleged victims of the same legislator and never did anything to reach out to them — to make sure they were getting the help they needed. They were just cast aside as collateral damage to the excesses tolerated in the Oregon Legislature.

I was always surprised that the Democrats didn’t push for an ethics investigation — if not to seek justice for the victims, then at least to score political points. What I heard was that they had problem members of their own — they didn’t want to be throwing stones from within their glass house.

In the course of other research, I found similar abuses going on more than 20 years ago. There were allegations of sexual harassment of an employee of the chief clerk by the then House majority leader and then worse, criminal behavior by another state representative.

This has been going on for too long. This is very much a bipartisan issue. While the major examples I gave were Republican state legislators, there are plenty of examples of despicable abuses of power on both sides. Think former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt or former U.S. Rep. David Wu for Democratic examples.

It is time for the Oregon legislature to take concrete, meaningful steps to make the Oregon Capitol a safe place for young Oregonians to work.

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