Rep. Vikki Breese Iverson, R-Prineville, has gone public with her allegation that she was sexually harassed in texts from Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie.
Iverson said Tuesday that she was the previously anonymous lawmaker who accused Witt of sexual harassment. She said she was speaking out after the bipartisan House Conduct Committee rejected a recommendation that Witt be removed from chairmanship of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Iverson is a member of the committee, and the formal conduct complaint filed against Witt says the incident occurred during a meeting on April 12. Details of what happened have not been fully divulged, but Iverson said Tuesday that Witt had sent her inappropriate texts.
One text included a reference to a "quid pro quo," a Latin term still used in business and politics that loosely means "a favor requiring the return of a favor."
"The fact Representative Witt chose to sexually harass me leaves us no room for any future ability to have real discussions regarding committee business or other House Floor business," Iverson wrote in her letter to House Speaker Tina Kotek. "The quid pro quo he texted me is an inexcusable abuse of his power. Experiencing this sexual harassment is something I should not have to be exposed to or accept as a course of business, especially in today’s Capitol culture."
Iverson filed a formal conduct complaint the next day with the Legislative Equity Office. In the complaint, she signed a portion that included acknowledging a false complaint would be considered perjury. Sarah Ryan, an attorney with Jackson Lewis, a firm specializing in labor and business law, was hired by the equity office to investigate the allegations. She interviewed Witt and Iverson and found that Witt was in no way a physical danger to Iverson.
Ryan said Iverson told her that going to meetings with Witt in attendance would take an emotional toll on her. She recommended that communication between the two be banned and Witt temporarily removed from the chairmanship.
A panel of the House Conduct Committee met Friday. Unlike other committees where the majority Democrats are the chairs and have more votes than Republicans, the conduct committee is evenly split between the parties, including who presides.
The panel on Friday included Rep. Ron Noble, R-McMinnville, and Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, who are co-chairs of the committee. Other members who attended were Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, and Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland. Noble presided over the hearing.
Witt appeared and spoke briefly to say that he was "shocked and surprised" by the allegations. Iverson did not take part in the hearing.
The lawmakers were unanimous in approving the ban on communication. But all agreed they did not have the power to remove Witt and were uncomfortable asking Kotek to force Witt out as chair because it could violate rules about presumption of guilt.
"This process is not supposed to be punitive," Fahey said.
House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, criticized the committee for not taking a firm stance on safety measures for Iverson.
“Co-chair Fahey’s rejection of the independent investigator’s recommendation to temporarily remove Chair Witt from his committee shows a shameful disregard for the pressing need for interim safety measures to protect the victim,” Drazan said in the statement.
In her letter to Kotek, Iverson said the House had failed to follow its own rules in not acting to issue "interim safety measures" as outlined in the Legislature's Rule 27, which ensures a “safe, respectful and inclusive workplace.”
After Witt stepped down, Kotek, "out of an abundance of caution," informed House members she was naming Rep. Zach Hudson, D-Troutdale, as chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Witt and Iverson remain members of the committee.
Iverson was named to the House District 55 seat in August 2019. She replaced former House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, who resigned to take an appointment by Gov. Kate Brown as a judge on the 22nd Circuit Court of Oregon, which covers much of Central Oregon. Iverson was elected to a two-year term in 2020. House District 55 includes all of Crook County and parts of Deschutes, Jackson, Klamath and Lake counties.