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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?