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Oregon Republican Accuses Democrats Of Creating Hostile Work Environment

<p>State Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, in the Oregon Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Salem, Ore.</p>

Bradley W. Parks


State Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, in the Oregon Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Salem, Ore.

A Republican in the Oregon Senate lodged a handful of formal complaints against his Democratic colleagues for creating a hostile workplace, in the wake of threats another Republican, State Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, made against Oregon state troopers.

Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, accused Democrats — including top legislative leaders — of making it uncomfortable for Senate Republicans to return to work after they staged a nine-day boycott earlier this summer.

Olsen's complaints allege Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick's comments that the Republican walkout was an act of terrorism that precipitated a "hostile workplace upon" the Republicans return. Olsen also blames Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, for failing to stop "the insidious language" and therefore allowing "fear and distrust to spread."

Olsen also filed a complaint against Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis. He accused Gelser of “bringing distrust and fear onto the Senate floor” and acting with “disdain” toward Senate Republicans once they returned to the Capitol after staging a nine-day boycott of the chamber earlier this summer.

An investigation into the complaints determined all of the allegations were unfounded. 

The state has yet to be billed for the work done by the outside attorney hired to look into Olsen’s complaint, but the attorney charges $505 per hour.

The investigator, attorney Sarah Ryan, with the firm Jackson Lewis P.C., wrote Burdick's comments were perhaps offensive and ill-advised but did not "rise to the level of creating a work environment that a reasonable employee would find intimidating, hostile, and offensive ..." 

When it came to the complaint against Gelser, the investigator suggested filing a formal complaint was not an appropriate way to address “lack of civility between elected officials.”

Senate Republicans garnered national media attention when they fled the state to avoid a vote on climate change legislation. When Boquist heard the governor would send out the state troopers to bring absent Republicans back to the Capitol, he said state police should “send bachelors and come heavily armed,” if they tried to apprehend him.

Boquist’s comments went viral. Gelser asked that Boquist not be allowed back in the chamber after a legislative memo concluded his threats appeared credible. An outside attorney also found legislative staff and Capitol employees had reported feeling fearful about returning to the building. Oregon State Police increased their presence of state troopers during the time period.

When Boquist returned to the upper chamber, Gelser stayed off the floor.

“Senator Gelser believed that if she absented herself from the floor while Senator Boquist was present, the Legislative staff would also feel comfortable following her lead,” Ryan wrote. “While Senator Gelser was not concerned that she was in immediate danger, she was concerned that staff members and others continued to feel unsafe.”

Olsen accused Gelser of “showboating” for the press, which “denigrated the integrity of the Body and thereby made for an environment that many considered unsafe,” according to his complaint.

Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, joined Olsen’s complaint. After the Republicans left the state Capitol, Linthicum did not return for the end of session and was not present during the time period of the complaint.

Olsen didn’t immediately return an call for comment.

Gelser said she would take Olsen’s word that she made him feel unsafe and said the investigative process is important.

“People should always feel comfortable to bring forward concerns if they feel they are in an unsafe workplace and I happily complied with the investigation,” Gelser said.


Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Lauren Dake is a political reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.