Lawmakers deadlock over consequences of harassing texts by Rep. Brad Witt
An Oregon House committee found itself largely deadlocked on Friday as it faced the consequences of a Democratic lawmaker who sent harassing texts.
Members of the House Conduct Committee all agreed that Rep. Brad Witt should receive appropriate coaching or training after sending ambiguous texts to Rep. Vikki Breese Iverson in April. But the four-person committee, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, found itself unable to agree on additional sanctions Witt should receive.
Representatives Ron Noble, R-McMinnville, and Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, preferred to ask the House to formally censor Witt, and also recommended that House Speaker Tina Kotek withdraw her legislative committee assignments. until the end of 2022, when his current term expires.
The Democrats on the committee, Rep. Julie Fahey from Eugene and Tawna Sanchez from Portland, favored a formal reprimand – slightly less harsh than censorship – and recommended that Kotek not give Witt the presidency of a committee until 2022.
But again and again, members of both parties could not find a three-member majority for their proposals, leaving the committee alone in a position to agree on an all-agreed outcome was not enough.
“I don’t think coaching and training is a sufficient remedy in this case,” Fahey said.
Earlier in the week, the committee found out that Witt, D-Clatskanie, had broken workplace rules against sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment with a series of text messages to Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, on 12 April.
On that date, Breese Iverson texted Witt asking for his vote on one of his proposals; House Bill 2616. Witt replied that he could not support the bill, a proposal on water rights on specific land.
After a few texts about the bill, Witt hijacked the discussion by texting, “We probably have to go have a beer someday.”
When Breese Iverson did not recognize the message and instead continued to sell his bill, Witt wrote: “I am by no means married to a beer. Could it be dinner or…? “
“Or what?” Breese Iverson texted. Witt replied, “I made two offers. If you want to meet up, find something better than dinner or beer.
Witt said earlier this week that he was simply looking for an informal setting where he and Breese Iverson could clear up the difficulties in their working relationship. At the time, Witt was chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and Breese Iverson was its vice-chair.
“Never – not now, and not when I texted – have I intended or expected my words to be interpreted as obscene, salacious or inappropriate in any way”, Witt told the committee.
But Breese Iverson is adamant that Witt was looking for a quid pro quo with the texts: her vote in exchange for spending time with him. She testified on Tuesday that the exchange had left her very shaken up and unable to do her job.
The steering committee ultimately believed both sides, believing that while Witt had not intended to trade his vote for a date, the ambiguous texts had nonetheless been detrimental. On this basis, the committee concluded that Witt had broken the legislative rules.
Democrats argued on Friday that while Witt’s lack of intent did not absolve him, it should be a factor in determining the severity of the consequences.
“I frankly think that someone who is not aware that the statements contained in these texts could be interpreted in many ways, should not be in a position of power in this building,” Fahey said, arguing that Witt should lose his ability to chair a committee, a powerful role on Capitol Hill.
Republican members thought it would be too easy. Noble suggested that removing Witt from any committee duties for the remainder of his current term as lawmaker would still be a relatively light sentence, but that it would send a signal.
“At some point we have to send a message to bring it down,” Noble said, referring to a culture in the building that the state’s Office of Labor and Industry said in 2018 allowed harassment to escalate.
Noble also submitted a document on which he suggested that the committee vote on who would have formally recommended that Witt “be formally censured and … reprimanded for engaging in disorderly and inappropriate behavior in the workplace” by the assembly. from the room. Democrats disagreed.
Noble ended up dropping his censorship proposal, stating: “My intention would be to remove [Witt] of all committees, and I am prepared to forgo any kind of censorship or any kind of public message for a real productive work environment.
But again, Democrats hesitated.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Sanchez said. “I think it’s just a little too far.”
The committee adjourned without agreeing to anything other than ordering Witt to receive training. Noble closed the meeting with a call for further consequences.
“I do not believe that corrective action is the sole responsibility of this committee, so I urge the body, the speaker, the management and anyone else who may have the power to use any discretion to ensure that there are appropriate corrective measures. , “he said.” I hope that will happen. “