Dems call for Peter Courtney to resign as Senate leader
An insurgency rising from within the ranks of the Democratic Party of Oregon poses a new challenge to the party's entrenched leadership.
The Multnomah and Yamhill county chapters of Democrats have each passed resolutions calling on Senate President Peter Courtney to step down for allegedly mishandling a sexual harassment scandal that roiled Salem, leading to a $1 million payout to nine victims last month.
Democrats in Jackson and Marion counties are set to vote on the same proposal soon, while Washington County Democrats passed a resolution that "condemn(s) any efforts to silence people reporting sexual harassment" but doesn't call for specific resignations.
"Senator Courtney is an example of someone upholding a power structure that is inequitable for men and women," said Multnomah County committee precinct person Ami Fox, a prominent supporter of the resolution. "The culture in the Capitol is sick."
In an interview, Fox charged Courtney with helping to cover up male lawmakers' misconduct, such as former state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, who resigned last year after being accused of inappropriate touching by multiple legislators.
But Fox said a report by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries revealed problems within Courtney's own circle as well. The Senate president's longtime spokesman resigned in January after BOLI reported that his behavior left a female employee feeling uncomfortable.
"I have three daughters, and I want to make a better world for them, one where they have equal access to jobs and positions of power," Fox said, adding that she wants Courtney to leave his leadership position, but not necessarily to resign from the Senate entirely.
Multnomah County Democrats passed the resolution Thursday, April 11, after a voice vote showed support from a clear majority.
Yamhill County Democrats passed the motion unanimously in March. A Yamhill committee precinct person, Tara Patterson, said the "damning" BOLI report gave the resolution new urgency.
"It's like crimes against women don't matter as much," Patterson said.
The two-page resolution originally was written last September by Farrah Chaichi, a committee precinct person in Washington County.
Chaichi said the Washington County club's Central Committee watered down her language, leaving it "toothless." Both Fox and Chaichi said they had been warned the resolution could derail the Democratic supermajority's momentum during the ongoing legislative session.
"They laughed at me. He's such a big fundraiser, I've been told, that he would be Senate president as long as he wanted," Chaichi said, adding later, "They weren't laughing because they thought it was OK but because they had resigned themselves to defeat a long time ago."
Fox agrees that Courtney exerts influence far beyond his Senate district covering parts of Salem and Woodburn. "It is known, if you go against Peter Courtney, you might as well go home. Your bills don't come out of committee," she said.
Courtney's office didn't respond to a request for comment.
This story has been updated.