The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley
Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-Portland), the once-rising political star who pundits considered to be a coming household name in Oregon politics, announced on Sunday, February 21 that he would resign from office.
The Oregonian reported that his resignation would be effective March 15.
Hernandez stepped down after a unanimous vote to expel him earlier in Feb. by the House Committee on Rules, consisting of two Democrats and two Republicans, for allegedly sexually harassing five women who he sees at times in person due to their work at the Capitol.
If Hernandez had not resigned he would likely have been the first lawmaker in Oregon’s history to be expelled from the Legislature if the full house had voted to do so this week.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken denied Hernandez’s attempt last week to get a temporary restraining order against the Oregon House. The denial meant the House would vote on Hernandez’s fate on Feb. 23. He stepped down before that could happen.
Five women accused Hernandez of at least unwanted contact, and two of those women said they once were involved in a romantic relationship with the soon-to-be-former representative, but that he continued to text them abusive and controlling messages after each respective relationship ended, including some that threatened each women’s career, according to multiple published reports.
OPB reported Hernandez claimed the allegations came from an attack by Democratic leadership that is retaliating against him for not voting in line with his party’s caucus on a public pension bill. In the same story, OPB also reported that Kotek called those accusations “completely false.”
Lawmakers hired an outside law firm to investigate Hernandez more than nine months ago, but the firm’s investigators could not prove the accusers’ claims. Nevertheless, the firm submitted its findings to the House Committee on Rules, which then unanimously voted for expulsion.
The OPB story also quotes Hernandez claiming that House Speaker Tina Kotek is trying to sabotage his career.
A press release issued by Kotek in May 2020 — at that time the legislative equity officer and an independent investigator recommended immediate safety actions be taken to protect the women who came forward to complain about Hernandez’s behavior — said the House Speaker was “deeply concerned that members of the broader Capitol community feel unsafe or subject to retaliation by Rep. Hernandez.”
At that time, Kotek supported Hernandez taking a leave of absence. Her press release said she wanted to see Hernandez “seek guidance and focus on his physical and emotional health.”
Incidentally, Hernandez also is a director of the Reynolds School District school board, located in the Greater Portland areas of Fairview Troutdale, Wood Village, North Gresham, and East Portland. As of press time, he still is listed as the holder of position 2 on the school district website. Phone calls placed by the Banks Post to a phone number posted under Hernandez’s name on a district webpage were each forwarded after two rings. Calls to the school district to learn if Hernandez will remain in his school board seat were not answered or returned.
Rep. Suzanne Weber (R-Tillamook), who represents District 32 and is in her second month as an elected official, said the entire situation is lamentable.
“It’s really unfortunate that these kinds of things happen and they have to be dealt with,” Weber said. “It’s the treatment of the whole. It shines a light on not only how women are treated but on men who face the same obstacles at times.”