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Is a GOP Upset Win on the Horizon in Oregon Governor's Race?

Republican Rep. Knute Buehler speaks at the Oregon House chamber

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek aren’t going anywhere, at least of their own volition. Both Democrats have rejected GOP gubernatorial candidate Dr. Knute Buehler’s demand they resign because of allegations the legislative leaders have been ignoring sexual harassment complaints involving lawmakers.

“For too long, casual attitudes and unprofessional behavior has been accepted and tolerated in the Capitol,” Buehler, who is an Oregon state representative, said in a statement. “This troubling culture knows no party affiliation and exists whether you’re an elected official, lobbyist or student intern.”

A February report showed a long pattern of sexual misconduct in the Oregon Legislature that ramped up in intensity during the 2017 legislative session. Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian accused Courtney and Kotek of ignoring reports of sexual harassment. He said they also blocked efforts to help some of the women who complained.

“Respondents have permitted a generally hostile environment based upon sex, including but not limited to subjecting multiple individuals in the Capitol to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” Avakian wrote in a seven-page complaint he filed with his own office.

The most recent complaints involved Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Republican who resigned in March because of sexual harassment charges against him.

Buehler said Avakian’s complaint showed the problem of sexual harassment in the Oregon Legislature went beyond Kruse. He asserted Capitol staff and “allegations of a ‘bro culture’” inside state agencies also deserved investigative attention.

“Those in positions of power who are aware of misconduct and fail to take it seriously forfeit their right and credibility to lead,” Buehler said.

Courtney told the Statesman-Journal he reacted as quickly as possible to the Kruse allegations.

“I work very hard to create an environment here in the Capitol that visitors, the media, lobbyists, policy makers, anyone that comes here, the security forces, will be treated with dignity and respect and are welcome here,” Courtney said. “I work at it all the time. It’s part of my view of how this office should be.”

Kotek scoffed at Buehler’s righteous attitude.

“It’s really unfortunate that Rep. Buehler wants to play politics,” Kotek said to reporters. Besides, she explained, having no authority in the Senate, Kotek said she wasn’t part of any conversations involving Kruse.

Democrat-Republican relations have been getting testy in Portland if only because Buehler is showing unexpected strength in his run against Gov. Kate Brown. A Gravis Marketing poll released in July showed Buehler in a 45 percent to 45 percent dead heat with the Democratic incumbent.

Brown took office three years ago after then-Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned. The 2018 election is her first run for a full four-year term. However, even if she doesn’t have several years of incumbent power behind her, Brown is a Democrat, right? A self-described bisexual, right? And this is Oregon, one of the most liberal states in the nation, right? How could Gov. Brown possibly lose to a white, male Republican?

Buehler is not a fire-and-brimstone, Trump-worshipping GOPer. Buehler promised in July that if elected in November he’d keep Oregon pro-choice. "I'll be a trusted advocate for women's reproductive rights and care," Buehler said. "Regardless of what happens at the federal level, Oregon will remain a pro-choice state.”

Back in 2015, Buehler used words like “angry” and “self-absorbed” to describe Trump. He turned out to be wrong, at least from a national perspective; but at the time, Buehler didn’t think much of the billionaire destined to upset Hillary Clinton.

“For Republicans to win nationally and here in Oregon, we need a presidential nominee and GOP that is positive, inclusive and hopeful,” Buehler said in 2015.

Still, as Forbes pointed out, Buehler’s not afraid to pull a bright red MAGA hat out of the closet. He backed the Oregon ballot proposal, Initiative 22, which would mean the end of Oregon’s decades-old sanctuary state law.

"We need to have coordination and collaboration between local law enforcement and federal law enforcement," Buehler told conservative talk radio show host Lars Larson. "People who are here and committing crimes, there needs to be that kind of coordination and communication [with federal immigration authorities]. It is common sense."

Of course, just ask Hillary: It’s not like voter surveys have never been way off before. Maybe the Gravis poll was wrong.

"It's a bit surprising to see a Democratic statewide candidate in Oregon have such weak numbers, but (Brown) does,” John Horvick, vice president and political director of DHM Research in Portland, said to The Oregonian.

But Horvick also said DHM now saw the race between Buehler and Brown as being “pretty close, head-to-head between Brown and Buehler.”

However, critics of the Gravis survey said its results were more than “a bit surprising,” since a DHM Research poll, paid for by Oregon Public Broadcasting and released in February, showed Brown held a 46 percent to 29 percent voter advantage over Buehler.

“It’s hard to understand how this {Gravis survey] is a reputable piece of political opinion research,” Gov. Brown’s campaign spokesman Christian Gaston said.

But Horvick pointed out the February OPB survey, on which Gaston and other Gravis critics hung their hats, also showed few Oregon voters, at the time, knew who Buehler is. Horvick maintained, as a result, the February survey wasn’t much more than a snapshot of Gov. Brown vs. a generic Republican.

Horvick also warned a GOP upset at the top of Oregon’s statewide ticket was not impossible. He said Brown was “probably vulnerable against a strong candidate.” But, Horvick also noted, “It’s yet to be seen whether Knute Buehler is a strong candidate.”