Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and state Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, have clashed repeatedly in recent months, with allegations of wrongdoing lobbed in each direction.
Now, Boquist has filed a resolution to boot the longest-serving Senate president in the state’s history. The catch: He needs Courtney to call it up for a vote.
In a resolution filed late Tuesday afternoon, Boquist accused Courtney of violating personnel rules, lying to the public, misusing his office and violating state and federal laws. He did not offer details to back up the claims. The resolution asks senators to formally censure Courtney and to remove him as Senate president.
Boquist’s filing came hours after Courtney spoke on the Senate floor, addressing harassment issues that have plagued the Senate — and his office — since 2017, and indicating that the Legislature is on the verge of settling a complaint from the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Courtney said he’d learned a lot from three recent trainings on workplace culture offered to lawmakers and was committed to making the Senate a better working environment.
“I myself found the training very helpful and immediately started to implement it in my office in terms of saying things like ‘hello’ when I come in in the morning and ‘goodbye’ when I leave,” Courtney said. “This has given me a lot to think about.”
The low-key speech followed recent reports by Willamette Week and the Statesman Journal that raised questions over how Courtney had handled reports of harassment while an official at Western Oregon University. He has denied downplaying any reports.
Boquist was unmoved by Courtney’s address. In an email to reporters, he wrote: “The written speech on the floor today by Peter Courtney is unacceptable as the President has always said in the past if a person reads their speech then their heart is not in it. It is time for change.”
In a far longer email to lawmakers last week, Boquist cited a number of recent lawsuits related to harassment claims that name Courtney and other legislative leaders as defendants. One of those lawsuits was filed by two women who served as interns under former state Sen. Jeff Kruse, who resigned in early 2018 after an investigation established his long pattern of harassing behavior.
The Kruse incident set off a chain of events that have included a process to bolster rules around harassment, and a formal complaint filed against the Legislature by former state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian.
In a likely nod to his intention to call for Courtney’s job, Boquist ended the email by reminding lawmakers that Tuesday was the final day to introduce bills this session.
“Bill drop deadline is Tuesday at 5pm,” he wrote. “Food for thought.”
Boquist’s resolution is only the latest incident in a war of words between the two politicians.
In November, Courtney issued Boquist a “cease-and-desist” letter, citing “hostile, intimidating and harassing” interactions he said Boquist had with legislators and staff. Not long after, Boquist wrote state officials at the Oregon Ethics Commission, secretary of state’s office and the state Department of Justice to say he’d heard “civil and criminal allegations” regarding Courtney’s office.
Earlier this year, when Courtney announced committee assignments, he’d removed Boquist as vice chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue.
Boquist’s newly filed resolution led to a strong response from state Sen. Ginny Burdick, the majority leader.
“Senator Courtney stepped up to put a stop to Boquist’s bullying behavior toward a female staff member,” Burdick said in a statement. “Ever since that time, Senator Boquist has been going after Senator Courtney and others in a clear and transparent attempt at retaliation. This is exactly the kind of behavior that must be stamped out at our State Capitol.”
Boquist’s effort isn’t likely to go too far. While Senate Democrats say it will be handled in the same manner as other legislation, it’s Courtney who’ll decide which committee it’s handed to, and — if it makes it out of that committee — whether it’s called up for a vote.