Would you lie to keep your job? The duel and contradicting narrative of Rep. Diego Hernandez - Victim, or Victimizer?
Representative Diego Hernandez is back in the news. It's hard to summarize what's going on without simply stating "there's a bunch of bullshit happening around this guy."
I'm not alone:
“The system is broken, and they were out for Diego without due process,” [Rep. Mark Meek (D-Clackamas County)] said. “I’ve been wrestling with this, watching and witnessing what our caucus means, what the supermajority means, and I’ve been in the supermajority. But do I think it’s healthy? No … Do I think our average citizen is heard and respected? No.”
In a phone interview, Rep. Mark Meek (D-Clackamas County) said there was a high chance he’d leave the party over this process. “Between one and ten? It’s an eight,” he said of the likelihood he’ll leave the Democratic party.
The central question is if Rep. Hernandez is guilty of sexual harassment, specifically creating a hostile workplace? The answer: Yeah, probably, or…possibly. But it's a surprisingly complicated story.
He didn't sexually assault someone, he didn't send dick pics, he didn't tell dirty jokes, and the accusers were forced or likely coerced into accusing him by one of the most powerful people in the State of Oregon.
So what's up with Representative Diego Hernandez of East Portland?
I've written about him, and the allegations, in the past, Diego Hernandez is a Oregon politician representing in East Portland (district 47) since 2017, when he was elected in 2016 at the age of 29 years old, he was the youngest member of the Oregon House. He's a minority, he's a native, he's described as "Progressive", he's climbed the ranks out of public service starting with the school board. If Hernandez was not plagued by these sexual harassment allegations, he would be a rising star politician with a promising career ahead of him as a legit real Progressive.
The first false and insidious accusation against Diego Hernandez arose in May 2017, 5 months in his first term, "accusing him of keeping a list ranking women lobbyists at the Oregon Capitol by attractiveness." This was investigated and found to be false - keep in mind that this was the height of the #MeToo movement, so accusations like this were not trivial, but in fact malicious attempts to sabotage his career. June 26th through August 31st 2017 there was an investigation, 21 people were interviewed about if Hernandez is a dirty pervert about Lobbyists, no one came forward to attest to "acting in a disrespectful or unprofessional manner toward anyone (male or female)." Importantly:
Several interviewees stated that they assumed the rumor was baseless because it seemed to be completely out of character with what they knew of your values and integrity.
We were … unable to conclusively identify the source of the initial rumor.
As I will detail below, with recent findings it's now more than likely that rumor was invented by Tina Kotek and was intended as a personal jab because at this time he was involved in an on-off relationship with a woman who was lobbying (Subject 1).
Yet, even with a 2-month investigation determining the rumor to be false - the rumor didn't die. In January 2019 Brad Avakian released a bombshell report on top Democrats, Tina Kotek in particular, of being complicit with the actual sexual harassment in Salem. In this report, the baseless rumor about Diego Hernandez was repeated.
Fast-forward to March 3rd, 2020 - Diego Hernandez is up for re-election, the primaries are just on the horizon, Hernandez is running unopposed in District 47 for the May 19th primary. Suddenly his ex-girlfriend, Andrea Valderrama, files a restraining order for a single incident that happened in June 21, 2019 (9 months prior) when Hernandez had an angry outburst. It's extremely likely Valderrama filled this lawsuit out of political pressure, likely from Tina Kotek. The restraining order was dismissed by the accuser 1 day prior to a court case where Hernandez would be given an opportunity to defend himself. In the accusations, Valderrama made it clear there was multiple incidents and a pattern of bad behavior from Hernandez - yet after this investigation it's clear there was just a single incident: the one time he threw his phone at a table. Without any justice at all, Hernandez has this blemish on his record he's never been able to defend. It's now my belief that there was a quid pro quo for filing the restraining order, probably from Tina Kotek, as in September 2020 Andrea Valderrama started working for a political organization, and then yet another political organization in October. Two fortunate career opportunities opened up, right after she pulled a major political favor. That's a little sus.
April 2020, Hernandez takes a leave of absence, and fallout over the bogus restraining order continues as high-profile Democrat organizations drop their support. The restraining order had been dropped. With mounting pressure he's preparing his defense, he submits to a body-hair drug test that shows he's been free of drugs for 12 months (for weed at least 3 months). Later he's accused of regularly mixing hard drugs and booze, which there seems to be no evidence of.
May 4th, 2020 - Tina Kotek uses a "mandatory reporting" clause in Oregon Legislature to file sexual harassment claims on behalf of Andrea Valderrama and 1 other unnamed person (Subject 1). 5 others join the feeding frenzy. Using the dismissed "restraining order", Tina Kotek strips Hernandez of his Legislative Committees, and as a bonus of humiliation demand that he provide 24-hour notice before entering the Capitol, as if he's a violent domestic abuser.
The May 4th action triggered a 9-month investigation, and that’s where we're at today.
What's in this new report?
The report is here and it's got a lot of problems and inconsistencies.
Instead of 7 people accusing him, now it's dwindled to 5 people, and only 3 have valid complaints according to this "investigation." Jackie Sandmeyer said 13 women contacted her, but only 5 went forward with the investigation. Again, it's no surprise that people dog pile on to these things - we know for a fact that Salem loves spreading rumors of sexual misconduct - even if those rumors are entirely unfounded.
The biggest blow to the credibility of this report is the inability to include evidence and direct quotes. With Subject 5 they managed to include multiple direct quotes from text messages that leave no ambiguity to the reader as to the intent. We should all expect that actual evidence laid out plain as day, not a bullshit summary by two investigators, but instead we got a lot of bullshit summaries. Ultimately when the report includes direct evidence sometimes, but not other times, it leads one to believe there is no direct evidence supporting the investigator's conclusions.
The report does seem to be leaking with bias, as it often includes unsubstantiated accusations, but then calls the defense against those accusations out of scope. For example, if you're accused of sending unsolicited sexual content, is it important if the other person was first sending you sexual content? I think it's incredibly different to respond to romantic ovations than initiating them. Or, if you're examining the length and totality of a relationship, can you simply rule out the entire start of the relationship and where it's come from? Personally I think it's unfair to pick a half-way point in a relationship, and an honest investigation will spend a moment considering the totality.
The report details behavior that seems innocuous, but given that it's in this report you must assume scandalous - like, "Rep. Hernandez asked Subject One if she wanted to join him for a walk. She declined." Ok…. Is that…bad? Other times the explicit inuendo is left out, barely noticeable between the lines, like when the girl you think you're courting and giving gifts to invites you out for drinks, I think that's a provocative gesture. The report casually leaves out that a mutual meetup happened over drinks in the evening. Sure, professionals can have drinks, no big deal, but the report overly examines some behavior when it conforms to a narrative. Other times, we have to just assume inuendo thrown in by the investigators like, "[he] increased his communication with Subject Four in an effort to pursue an intimate relationship." Increased? How? Are wordy emails scandalous now? Too many emojis? Text messages in the middle of the night? What specifically lead them to this conclusion? Give us just a sentence of explanation. I can't help but feel the ambiguity is intentional and a misrepresentation, because it certainly doesn't seem reasonable or fair to make definitive statements without supportive evidence.
The report makes suggestions that Hernandez might legally threaten people who complain against him, but he's never done that and there's no reason to think he would. It doesn't bother including in it the past accusations against him, even though those are pertinent to some of the people involved.
The report deliberately misrepresents the professional role of the accusers. On a simple read of the report you'd assume all the accusers live and work in Salem, live and breathe State Law Making. For example, Subject 2 is Andrea Valderrama, she was elected to chair David Douglas School District - of course she'll have opinions on State law, but it's not her exclusive job to be in the Salem Capitol each and every day. The report describes, "Subject Two’s job and role as an elected official required her to conduct business at the Capitol." And yeah, that's technically true but her job isn't conducting business at the Capitol constantly. Though, as punishment for these accusations Hernandez received constant punitive measures.
The Five Accusers
The accusers are referred to as "Subjects" in this report, they're kept anonymous for dubious reasons. Subject 1 & 2 didn't actually submit sexual harassment complaints on their own behalf, Tina Kotek submitted them and the Subjects were required to participate.
Subject 1 - She claims they had a "brief" "romantic relationship" where I assumed they banged sometime in January to February 2017. They may have been bang'n before January, but the report doesn't bother investigating that. She claims the relationship ended in February, and Hernandez keeps giving her gifts (anonymously) through until May. In May 2017 they mutually agree to not have a sexual relationship. The report gets pretty vague from here, but the interviewers tacitly accuse Hernandez of attempting to pursue a sexual relationship without providing any direct evidence - such as: "Rep. Hernandez expressed a desire to continue hanging out. Although reluctant, Subject One said, “Sure.”" Where did the investigators get the "reluctant?" The report says later, "He added that he had a few things that he wanted to say that he did not get a chance to say previously." What "few things?" Was one thing "You have a great butt, I want to see it"? On Friday June 19th they made plans to get drinks on Monday June 22nd, getting Monday night drinks isn't necessarily romantic, but it's not strictly professional when you have a past sexual relationship. Meanwhile June 27th, 2017 comes around and he asks if he's a sexist, and she says no. Allegedly "at some point in the summer" Hernandez shows up at her house unannounced - the investigators "find it more likely than not" that this happened, without citing evidence like phone records or text messages, even though Hernandez denies this entire unannounced house visit took place. Also in June she has an epiphany that she shouldn't meet with her clingy ex-BF 1-on-1, so if she needs to conduct business in Salem she brings someone. By October their professional relationship no longer works, they can't communicate to iron it out. She turns to a different politician and says basically, "Hey, can you tell this dude to leave me alone?" and their relationship goes strictly professional.
Huge portions of this narrative make no sense when you align it to the actual historical events.
Let's keep in mind: what is happening between May and June 2017? He is publicly accused of being some womanizer sexist pig with this "Lobbyist hot list" that didn't exist. Let's assume everything reported by Subject 1 in this report is true: guy you hooked up with in winter is now clingy in spring, he's trying to be cute but it comes off desperate, you invite him for drinks (not coffee or lunch?) and say "Hey dude, it ain't happening, but let's be friends and keep it professional." Then you start feeling like he's a creeper and you're unsafe - he showed up at your house unannounced. You and people you know are being interviewed - 21 people in total - and you come to this guy's defense? He asks you (after he showed up at your house and you hid in your closet from him) "am I a bad guy?" and you say "No."
I suppose in retrospect she may now appreciated the inappropriate nature of their relationship, because at the time, when given the opportunity, she made no mention of him being a creeper.
The lack of other people coming forward we're also told that Subject 1 "In the spring, summer, and fall of 2017, Subject One shared with friends and a professional contact that she had discontinued the relationship with Rep. Hernandez but that he continued to pursue her." But, somehow, none of those people were friends with the 21 interviewed in the summer of 2017 for an investigation into if Hernandez was a creep.
It's also very interesting that this incident of him showing up at her house is a disputed event - there's no text message? Call records? Other witnesses who could verify it? The investigators just thought it was worthwhile to include an incident based upon "he said, she said." How many other accusations are like this? Several.
Subject 2 is Andrea Valderrama. Keep in mind that Ms. Valderrama has also been an eager young politician and ran an unsuccessful campaign for City Hall. In between being Chair of the East Portland School District she was also aid to Ted Wheeler, she got the backing of John Russell a powerful developer. Valderrama and Hernandez have a long relationship going before this report, as they almost certainly knew each other due to mutual work on neighboring school district boards. The extent of the complaint Valderrama has against Diego Hernandez is "Once he threw a phone at a table, and he sent two angry text messages." We also find out that Valderrama and Hernandez were bang'n up until "Late 2019" or "Early 2020." And it ended bitterly, "Rep. Hernandez produced evidence that Subject Two desired to re-kindle their romantic relationship after it ended." I think what we have here is a jealous, manipulative, asshole ex-GF. After being turned down a couple times, she decides to pull the nuclear option and file for a restraining order and sabotage your career. Just so happens that a very powerful person gets the side benefit of watching this guy squirm and can now use it to sabotage him.
The best part about Subject 2's testimony is the willingness of the "investigators" to reprint baseless rumors from unnamed witnesses:
One other witness, who appeared to be disinterested, advised us that Rep. Hernandez has anger management issues and provided examples. Another witness commented on his anger. Two other witnesses stated that they believed Rep. Hernandez engaged in controlling and/or jealous behavior with regard to his intimate partners, but the information from one of those witnesses was second hand.
On the other hand, one witness refuted Subject Two’s assertion that Subject Two was fearful in a particular instance, separate and distinct from the incidents outlined above, and we make no findings as to that incident.
Other crazy shit Andrea Valderrama comes up with is that Diego Hernandez is a computer hacker and in April 13th, 2020, he logged into her social media and sent a threatening email to a colleague. As if the way this guy reacts to restraining orders is by breaking into her Facebook. It's not like Andrea Valderrama is an unhinged person who would quickly betray their long-time friend with a giant threat - questions like that are beyond the scope of the "investigation." Separately she also accused him of "hacking" her email subscription of his legislative newsletter….but turns out he just unsubscribed her.
Subject 3 - This one is just bizarre: Hernandez smirked at her once when she was sad. She further accused him of being "physically aggressive."
One eyewitness stated that Rep. Hernandez was composed and that it was Subject Three who was yelling. We heard from another eyewitness that Rep. Hernandez was yelling at Subject Three and that Subject Three asked Rep. Hernandez to get away from her several times, and he did not do so. As a result of these conflicting statements, we are unable to substantiate this issue.
The report dismissed Subject 3's complaints, which was the only other person who hinted at Hernandez having violent outbursts besides that time he threw a phone.
Subject 4 - They had a "brief, consensual, intimate relationship." Which I assume is a one-night stand that happened in "Mid-2017" so basically the hookup that got Diego Hernandez in-between giving gifts to Subject 1. Not sure why, but this is the only one in the report with redacted sentences, with most of it being redacted dates. The report deals a lot with "who started the relationship" but they ended up bumping uglies consensually until "Rep. Hernandez had a disagreement with Subject Four regarding Subject Four’s endorsement of a local political candidate." Hernandez's defense was basically, "We weren't even dating." Yet it's pretty clear he kept trying to hook back up with her, the report includes direct evidence like the my favorite booty call line "I’m trying to figure out where you and I are at. When you said pl[a]tonic friends, did you mean acquaintances instead? Maybe I don’t need clarity and just assume we aren’t actually going to be friends, but I’d rather hear it from you." Hernandez sent her that message just before 11pm on Wednesday October 11th, 2017. Without a doubt, that is an inappropriate time to be messaging unless your intention is not platonic. Time goes on and she starts reaching out about business and legislative priorities, which he ignores because "Rep. Hernandez admitted that he did not respond to Subject Four’s requests to meet and discuss Legislative business because it was not a priority at that time." In fairness, the 2018 legislative season was a short and contentious one so his excuse may hold ground. There's very little reason to "talk business" with an Oregon lawmaker in Fall. The report is very unclear what precisely happened between these two, but Subject 4 claims she "felt uncomfortable" personally doing business with Hernandez, so she had her staff do it, but they still managed to hook up and bang again in Summer of 2018, and by September their relationship fell apart again.
Of all the accusations in this report, this one seems to be the most likely that Hernandez created a hostile workplace for Subject 4. Their on-off sexual relationship and "friendship" seems to have created mixed boundaries, where the parities found unprofessional coldness if they weren't fuckin, and professional disagreements ended personal friendships. Seems like the parties were in the wrong to pursue sexual relationships with their work colleagues, realize it was messy, and then continue pursuing it, continuing to get more messy.
Subject 5 - This person just made some shit up the investigators dismissed, "Subject Five stated that she was retaliated against by Rep. Hernandez because she complained about a flirtatious relationship between Rep. Hernandez and a staff member. She further stated that Rep. Hernandez may have promoted the staff member with whom she suspected he was in a romantic relationship due to the romantic relationship."
Keep in mind the original accusations in the newspapers were:
Sandmeyer told lawmakers that seven people had accused Hernandez of “incidences of verbal sexual harassment as well as … sexual harassment that involved contact, that would involve touching” and creating a hostile work environment in or around the Capitol.
This was all seriously overblown for political purposes. The actual complaints are a few people he should not have banged because it muddied their relationship, and he puts off clingy/creeper vibes.
So is he actually guilty of anything?
Yeah, for sure….or, pretty likely. With Subject 4 there was a very cut and dry hostile workplace. Is Hernandez exclusively to blame? No, it's not like he was her boss or had her in a position of clear authority, even after Subject 4 believes she was making a mistake, she went back and made more mistakes. For all we know, Subject 4 could have been manipulating Hernandez and those details were "beyond the scope." At any point, either side should have acknowledged the relationship was bad for professional reasons and simply put it to an end - Hernandez didn't because he was thinking with his dick and he created a hostile workplace.
Either way, we pretty much have a consistent time line of this guy's dating habits from Subject 1 through Subject 4 - pre-2017 up until "early 2020" when he broke up with Andrea Valderrama. It's bad that your last 3 ex-girlfriends are all willing to testify against you. The report notes "we find it more likely that not that Rep. Hernandez had intimate relationships with at least four individuals who did business at the Capitol." So, there was at least one other person, likely interviewed, who didn't have anything damning to say, so the investigators left it out.
Hernandez is not "guilty" of a crime though, in fact up until 2019 these relationships wouldn't have been considered taboo. Yes, they worked in the same circles, but Hernandez is not a critical path for legislative victory, he's not "their boss" or in a real position of authority - he's in fact such a minor representative that he's been a punching bag of Tina Kotek. Hernandez was the subject of a racist joke and thrown under the bus by powerful Democrats constantly. One could reasonably say that a sexual relationship with Hernandez is more likely to damage your Legislative ambitions, as he is considered a toxic character by the power brokers who have demanded that he step down from his 1st term. Sleeping with someone who is hated isn't a good "power move."
What is a good "Power Move"? Well, appeasing powerful people. Lying about the dynamics of a relationship to sabotage an unpopular person - that's a power move.
Have no doubt, powerful people are behind this, and there's a growing discontent with their leadership.
Senate President Peter Courtney has held his leadership position since 2003.
Representative Tina Kotek has been House Speaker since 2013.
There is a solid foundation of power in Salem Politics that goes very deep, and these people have built robust tools to maintain their power.
The first challenge to Tina Kotek's power really arose in December 2020 in no small part due to the mistreatment of Diego Hernandez:
There are some Democrats who chafe at Kotek's leadership because they consider her too liberal; others find her imperious and have grumbled about her treatment of state Reps. Diego Hernandez (D-East Portland) and David Gomberg (D-Otis) after women raised concerns about both men.
Diego is just 1 of 12 People of Color in Salem. He's alleges that this all started because he didn't vote along party lines.
I'm sure his additional sexual weaknesses didn't help his career - but it's seriously fucked up that just 1 of 12 BIPOCs becomes such a targeted character that powerful lobbyist feel it's OK to make him the subject of racist jokes. It's seriously fucked up for Tina Kotek to spearhead calls for him to resign based upon false accusations, then second accusations never heard in court, and then third accusations before there was an investigation.
This is what our single-party supermajority political class has come down to: if you don't vote along the party lines, we'll sabotage you. We have enough of a voting block to expel elected officials who don't align themselves with us. The power brokers can concoct rumors, launch investigations, and people who crave more power will flock to our aid to sabotage you.
FWIW, Diego Hernandez has his reaction to the report on Facebook. In my opinion, the guy has sincere remorse for these relationships and any damage they've caused. I am a petty person, if my ex-GF was filing fake restraining orders to get a political job I'd be blasting her on social media and letting the truth come out. After reading this I'm report I'm not convinced he needs to resign, he has apologized. The real problems now are with leadership in Salem letting this circus continue.