State Watch

Democrat resigns from Oregon legislature before expulsion vote following harassment allegations

Oregon state Rep. Diego Hernandez (D) on Sunday resigned from his seat before he could be expelled over allegations of harassment.

Hernandez confirmed his departure in a statement to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) on Sunday, writing, "Today I tendered my resignation so my colleagues may focus on serving Oregonians and so I can move forward with my life and focus on my health and family."

The embattled Democrat was likely going to be the first person expelled from the state legislature, which was scheduled to host a vote as early as Tuesday. A two-thirds vote - 40 members - would have been needed to oust Hernandez from the chamber. 

Hernandez has faced backlash since a nine-month independent investigation found that he harassed and created a hostile work environment for two female employees at the statehouse as well as a third woman. 

According to the outlet, both women had brief, consensual romantic relationships with Hernandez. After the two women tried to end things, Hernandez allegedly pressured them to either resume a relationship with him or jeopardize their careers.

The third women told investigators that throughout their longtime relationship, Hernandez was "controlling and abusive."

The three-term lawmaker has denied any wrongdoing and said he interpreted his interactions with two of the women as welcoming. 

"Dating when you are young is hard. Some dating relationships do not end definitively, but rather slip away over time," Hernandez said in a statement to OPB at the time. "There is often some confusion, mixed signals, and strained emotions. To anyone I made uncomfortable in my personal life, I sincerely apologize. My actions were motivated from honest affection and the best of intentions."

He added that "too often we have seen the conduct rules politicized, cases tried in the press, and punishment meted by leadership before investigations are complete."

In a last-ditch attempt to save his seat, Hernandez filed a lawsuit last week seeking a temporary restraining order to block the vote on his expulsion.

The lawmaker claimed that he was not given a fair opportunity to defend himself against the charges. The suit also sought $1 million in damages, saying the investigation inflicted "emotional distress in the form of anguish, embarrassment, loss of reputation, fear, worry, grief, anger, confusion, frustration, loss of sleep, and interference with usual life activities."

However, United States District Judge Ann Aiken declined to intervene on Saturday and found that the state legislature has been "entrusted with power over policing its own members."

Several of his colleagues applauded Hernandez for resigning. Democratic state Rep. Rachel Prusak wrote that she hopes "restorative justice can begin for all involved."

"Legislators hold the ultimate responsibility of determining the standard of behavior that ensures the capitol is a place of safety & respect," Prusak tweeted.

"I hope those harmed by his actions can feel a little more peace and that they are getting the help and support they needs. #BelieveWomen," wrote state Rep. Lisa Reynolds (D). 

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