Clackamas County chair 'accosted' in bathroom by debate attendee
Republicans to the right of Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith are renewing their calls for her resignation following what they describe as a physical altercation in the bathroom outside of a political debate.
While attending a Jan. 27 gubernatorial debate hosted by Republican women in Oregon City's Tumwater Ballroom, Smith reportedly grabbed the arm of another attendee to prevent her from filming, then bent down and got directly in her face for a heated argument.
Smith said the physical contact "did not happen," but she does remember being "accosted" in the bathroom by a woman named Kamala.
"I did not touch her, or anyone, nor did I see a cell phone," Smith said. "I left when it was apparent this person wanted to argue. Any person should be entitled to privacy when using a restroom, even public officials."
Kamala Pati said she will not be pressing assault charges against Smith, whom Pati believes still "crossed a line," both with her physical contact and raised voice.
"You don't put your hands on someone to control a situation, and you talk in a reasonable voice," Pati said.
Pati, 62, who is a Portlander of Indian descent, says she's 110 pounds and 5-foot-2, a few inches shorter than Smith, who is 64 years old.
"I was not afraid of Tootie, but if she hadn't been under the influence, she probably wouldn't have done what she did to me," Pati said.
Pati said she saw Smith drinking wine at the debate that was advertised with an "open bar," but Smith also denied this second allegation.
"I was absolutely not under the influence — at all," Smith said. "Again, this is a complete lie."
East Clackamas County Republican Women's Club invited various gubernatorial candidates to the Jan. 27 event, including Bridget Barton, Christine Drazan, Jessica Gomez, Nick Hess, Jim Huggins, Kerry McQuisten, Bud Pierce, Stan Pulliam and Marc Thielman. Photos at the event show Smith not wearing a mask, as would be required by state law when milling about the crowd and not eating/drinking, but that was a non-issue for Pati and most of the approximately 200 debate attendees who never wore masks during the event.
Smith has challenged Oregon's Democratic establishment over mandates intended to stem the spread of COVID-19, saying the governor was wrong to reinstate the indoor mask mandate last August. Defying the governor's limit to indoor gathering sizes in 2020, Smith said she would celebrate Thanksgiving with "as many family and friends as I can find."
But Smith's defiance of state COVID orders did not go far enough for many attendees of the Republican primary debates, and some of the primary candidates themselves said more should be done to defy state orders, or to call recent election results into question. Smith said those who accused her of a physical altercation at the event had a political agenda, "because they were upset at the actions I took at the Jan. 13 business meeting." During that meeting, Smith said she disagreed with the state's indoor mask mandate but was obliged as chair to demand that attendees wear masks.
Debbie Lumb, a former Molalla planning commissioner, said she witnessed part of the Jan. 27 exchange between Smith and Pati. All three participants are in agreement that Smith and the two other women were at times in the restroom facility together. Pati told Lumb that was going to ask Smith a question, so Lumb said she left the bathroom briefly.
"Less than two minutes later, I could hear something coming from the bathroom, so I went in to check," Lumb said. "As I came around the corner, Tootie Smith had the victim's arm in her hand."
Pati said she wanted to know Smith's reasoning for claims about threats made at the Jan. 13 meeting.
"I felt like if I had said, 'Get your hand off my arm,' she would have stopped talking, and I wanted to hear her story," Pati said. "It didn't hurt my arm, and it didn't bruise me or anything."
Lumb said that Smith did not seem to be gingerly holding Pati's arm like a friend, but rather firmly keeping Pati's arm from moving so she couldn't film.
"Tootie was very angry," Lumb said. "After hearing the outrageous accusations that she made against people and assaulting someone just for asking a question, I think Tootie is starting to unravel. It is time for her to step down."
Pati has provided testimony at virtual meetings of the Oregon Health Authority as it considers instating permanent mask mandates, but she says her group would never threaten anyone.
"We always peacefully protest," Pati said. "I'm getting so tired of people saying that it's people who are standing up for freedom are the violent ones."
Smith, for her part, says that the unruly crowd at the Jan. 13 meeting was part of an "attempted insurrection," and she moved the meeting to a virtual format in part because she was worried about the safety of county staff and fellow commissioners.
Pati said, "I asked Tootie, 'Do you really believe that they were going to kidnap you?' She replied 'yes,' and I said, 'You're not that important,' before removing my arm from her grasp and walking out of the bathroom."
Clarification posted Feb. 2: The debate was hosted in the Tumwater Ballroom, an event space that operates as its own entity within the Museum of the Oregon Territory building. The museum and its owner, the Clackamas County Historical Society, are nonpartisan and do not host political events.
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