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Findley cites ‘humiliating’ exposure of his complaint over skipping Senate sessions

The usually genial Lynn Findley, a Republican state senator from Vale, ripped off a political scorcher Friday, Oct. 20, saying he gets “sick when I walk into the Capitol right now.”

In a virtual meeting based in Salem, Findley accused the Senate president of being a “dictator” and claimed that as a senator “I have no rights.”

He was responding to an investigation into his complaint that he had been improperly treated when he decided to skip Senate votes for weeks. He laced into the Senate process around his complaint.

Findley said in his five-minute appearance before the Senate Conduct Committee that he faced “embarrassing” and “humiliating” public knowledge of what he thought was his private complaint. He said the episode was “the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life – in my professional career.”

 He didn’t explain to the committee why he wanted to keep his complaint secret and declined comment afterward.

“The work environment in the Oregon State Senate is extremely hostile for me and I believe it is adversely affecting my health due to extreme stress.”

–State Sen. Lynn Findley

In June, Findley complained that Senate President Rob Wagner created a hostile work environment when he wouldn’t excuse Findley’s repeated absences. Those absences now threaten Findley’s future in the Senate.

The secretary of state’s office has declared he isn’t eligible to seek reelection next year because he violated the state’s prohibition on excessive unexcused absences by senators. Findley and four other senators are asking the Oregon Supreme Court to reverse that decision.

WATCH VIDEO: Sen. Lynn Findley testimony

Findley, appointed and then elected to the Senate in 2020, hasn’t confirmed whether he is seeking reelection, but campaign activities suggest he is.

State campaign finance reports show he’s raised thousands of dollars in the past 60 days and used donor money in early October to pay $10,000 to a golf resort, describing the cost as “fundraising event expenses.”

The path to Friday’s hearing traces to earlier clashes between Republican and Democratic senators over abortion and gun safety legislation.

Findley joined other Republicans in the Senate to stay away from floor sessions of the Senate from May 3 through June 15, leaving the body without the required quorum to pass legislation. At the time, Findley said his action was triggered by his sudden discovery of an obscure Senate rule governing the readability of legislation.

He subsequently formally complained that he had been harassed and faced a hostile environment at the hands of the Senate president, a Democrat. He said his requests to be excused from Senate business were denied repeatedly by Wagner.

“I have never received a reason for any denial of my requested excused absences, and I believe I have been continually harassed for exercising my constitutional right to protest by not attending floor sessions,” he wrote in a complaint to the Legislative Equity Office in June.

Findley said he also requested permission to skip Senate business to attend a church service, to “conduct constituent work in my district” and to leave Salem early on the Memorial Day weekend “to avoid major traffic issues.”

He concluded, “The work environment in the Oregon State Senate is extremely hostile for me and I believe it is adversely affecting my health due to extreme stress.”

READ IT: Senate investigator’s report

He said Wagner’s actions violated a Senate rule intended to ensure a safe and respectful workplace.

According to a legislative investigator’s report, the rule bars harassment that creates a hostile work environment and that harassment is “verbal or physical conduct” that “denigrates or shows hostility toward an individual.”

The report recounted the Senate legislative stall and what Wagner did to bring it to an end with an announcement on May 5.

“The Senate President announced that requests for an excused absences on May 6 onward would be granted only in ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ President Wagner concluded the new standard was necessary because the Legislative Assembly was not able to conduct its work,” the report said.

By then, Findley asked to be excused for a Sunday church service.

“Senator Findley volunteered to me that he does not attend church services every Sunday. Senate President Wagner denied this request on or about May 6.”

“From May 3, 2023, to June 15, 2023, Senator Findley did not attend session and requested approval for his absences in order to protest the asserted refusal of the Senate to comply” with a rule requiring legislation be understandable by someone with an eighth-grade education.

The investigator concluded “that denial of an excused absence which deprived the Senate of a quorum in order to protest” didn’t violate the Senate workplace rule.

The investigator, Portland attorney Sarah Ryan, said she interviewed Findley before producing her report. She said Findley was given an advance draft of the report in September.

“Senator Findley did not respond to my draft,” Ryan wrote in her report.

But at Friday’s committee hearing, Findley did respond.

“I do not dispute the report,” he said.

Findley complained that the Senate rule about workplace conduct doesn’t protect senators.

“I have no rights as a sitting member of the Oregon state Senate. I have no rights for recourse,” he said, calling the process “a sham.”

“I have no recourse for anything,” he said. “I can’t dispute, I can’t talk about it, I can’t have a discussion,” Findley said. He later said he did have recourse to sue but “I’m not going to do that.”

He said he believed his rights were violated, and that he deserved special protection because he is 71 and “I’m also handicapped.”

Findley said he was appalled that the public had access to his complaint in the first place.

“Three days ago, I started getting media requests for my comments and thoughts about this process,” Findley said. “Had I known when I started this process in May that it was going to be fully vetted and fully public and I would be defending myself in the media, I would never have done this. This is embarrassing and it’s absolutely deplorable.”

He returned to the point at the end of his testimony, saying he found it “humiliating and toxic” that press and public access to the complaint process.

Legislative officials said that Findley was advised his complaint would become public.

Connor Radnovich, Wagner’s communications director, said by email Monday, Oct 23, that legislators are required to take annual training on the Senate rule that Findley invoked in his complaint.

“Details of the rule – including confidentiality – are discussed at length,” Radnovich said. “The reason complaints about legislators are public is because only legislators can discipline fellow legislators.”

In his testimony, the senator said his rights were violated.

“We don’t have a Senate president in a democratic society. We have a dictator,” he said, referring to Wagner.

“The Senate president and Sen. Findley have always had professional and productive conversations, particularly when Sen. Findley and the Senate president have collaborated on delivering priorities for eastern Oregon,” Radnovich said.

“This is absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life – in my professional career,” said Findley, who has worked previously as a city manager and a federal wildfire aviation manager.

“This is absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life – in my professional career,” said Findley, who has worked previously as a city manager and a federal wildfire aviation manager.

He said he still found the Senate “a hostile toxic, work environment” so “I get sick when I walk into the Capitol right now because my stomach knots up.”

Once he finished, the two Republicans and two Democrats on the committee voted to dismiss his complaint. That included the committee co-chairs, Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, and Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, and Deb Patterson, D-Salem.

They took similar action on a complaint filed by one of Findley’s colleagues, Sen. Cedric Hayden, a Republican from Fall Creek.

In an email Friday after the meeting, Findley wrote, “I have said all I plan on saying on this subject, you have all the records so attack away. What I thought was personal and confidential is public and embarrassing so I am done.”

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].

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