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Buehler calls for Oregon House speaker, Senate president to step down

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and and Senate President Peter Courtney are accused of ignoring sexual harassment reports at the Capitol.

Oregon’s Republican candidate for governor has called on the president of the state Senate and the speaker of the House, both Democrats, to step down from their leadership positions after Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian accused them of ignoring sexual harassment reports at the Capitol.

Knute Buehler also called for the Legislature's top lawyer and human resources director to resign.

Avakian’s complaint, filed Wednesday with his own agency, centers on the handling of repeated sexual harassment complaints against Sen. Jeff Kruse, who later resigned.

Avakian also says Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek blocked his office’s attempt to help some of the women who complained.

More: Statehouse leaders Kotek, Courtney allowed hostile workplace

Buehler, who is a lawmaker in the House, said on Twitter that casual attitudes and unacceptable behavior have been tolerated in the Capitol, and that those in positions of power should leave if they're aware of it.

In interviews Thursday, both Courtney and Kotek said they will not step down.

Courtney said he reacted strongly to the complaints when they came in, going as far as to take away Kruse’s office door and revoke his badge.

“I work very hard to create an environment here in the Capitol that visitors, the media, lobbyists, policy makers, anyone that comes here, the security forces, will be treated with dignity and respect and are welcome here,” Courtney said. “I work at it all the time. It’s part of my view of how this office should be.”

Kotek said she doesn’t have authority on the Senate side, and wasn’t privy to any conversations involving Kruse.

“I have taken every complaint that has come to my attention very seriously,” she said.

“This issue is really important to me. As a woman and someone who has been involved in situations in the past myself. It’s personally important and not a political issue for me,” Kotek said. “It’s really unfortunate that Rep. Buehler wants to play politics with it.”

Buehler is running against Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in the November election.

Kruse resigned, effective March 15, following allegations he had sexually harassed colleagues, interns and lobbyists in the Capitol since 2011. An independent investigation released in February detailed a longstanding pattern of inappropriate acts.

A task force is currently meeting to create new rules governing harassment in the Capitol. Its recommendations will be released before the 2019 Legislative session.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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