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Oregon House Speaker Shuffles Committees After Conduct Complaints

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek on Thursday announced a number of major changes to her members’ committee assignments, citing two incidents that occurred this week.

In the most dramatic change, longtime state Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, has been removed as chair of the House Committee on Health Care, which he has run since 2007. He’ll remain on the committee as a member.

Greenlick has also been taken off the House Committee on Conduct, which he chaired.

Next, Kotek removed state Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, from the House Judiciary Committee.

The moves arose from concerns over lawmakers' conduct that have dominated Salem since a sexual harassment scandal broke out in late 2017, and continued amid a high-profile standoff between legislative leaders and the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Greenlick's position as a committee chair came into question earlier this week, during a hearing in which he berated a pair of lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry, suggesting they were acting “stupid.” Greenlick apologized for the comments almost immediately, but was taken to task by a Republican lawmaker, Christine Drazan.

Kotek’s office said on Wednesday that she’d found Greenlick’s apology “heartfelt,” and that she wouldn’t be changing him out of leadership. That changed after House Republicans formally demanded Greenlick be removed, saying their members did not feel safe with him atop the committee.

“Representative Mitch Greenlick made a serious mistake during Tuesday’s House Committee on Health Care when he made demeaning comments toward two individuals who were testifying before his committee,” Kotek wrote in a message to legislators Thursday.

Post’s removal from the Judiciary Committee comes after a tweet he sent out on Feb. 19, in which he invited a gun rights group, the Oregon Firearms Federation, to an event at that Capitol being staged by gun-control advocate group Moms Demand Action.

“Be ready, be there!” Post wrote to the firearms group.

Kotek’s office also pointed to a since-deleted tweet, in which Post called state Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, “cray-cray.” Post said Thursday he'd deleted the tweet shortly after it was posted.

In her message to lawmakers, Kotek wrote that Post has “been the subject of ongoing complaints raised by members of the public regarding his use of social media.”

Post took to the House floor on Thursday morning to react to the changes. He first apologized to Moms Demand Action.

“I miscommunicated what I was trying to say,” he said. “What I was trying to say was, ‘We need equal parts of both sides of a debate.’”

But Post also suggested that the decision to drop him from a committee was hasty. “Free speech is free speech,” he said. “I want to leave you with that.”

In her own speech on the House floor, Kotek criticized Republican lawmakers for “issuing ultimatums with short notice” and politicizing Greenlick’s actions. She also praised the veteran lawmaker, in office since 2003.

"Rep. Greenlick is a friend and mentor and someone whose service to Oregon has been profound, and yet we must all be held to a high standard,” Kotek said.

Kotek argued her decisions to remove Post and Greenlick showed she is willing to move swiftly to address bad behavior. But she also issued a word of warning.

“I want to urge a note of caution about what has transpired in the last 48 to 72 hours,” she said. “The way that actions were politicized over social media and in this building set a dangerous precedent.”

Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, will replace Greenlick as chair of the House Health Care Committee. Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, will replace him at the helm of the Conduct Committee.

Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, will replace Post on the Judiciary Committee.

Asked Thursday how he felt about Kotek’s decision, Greenlick demurred.

“I don’t have anything to say,” he said. “The only thing I can say is I think Andi Salinas would be a good chair.”

<p>State Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, takes the Pledge of Allegiance in the Oregon House of Representatives, Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.</p>

Bradley W. Parks


State Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, takes the Pledge of Allegiance in the Oregon House of Representatives, Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.