Val Hoyle was sworn in Monday as Oregon’s Labor Commissioner, and she has an immediate chance to make an important difference.

It was gratifying to hear Hoyle say that one of her top priorities is to follow up on the sexual harassment investigation that her predecessor, Brad Avakian, started.

Last week the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries released a report concluding that state lawmakers failed to adequately address complaints about sexual harassment, and that their failures resulted in a hostile workplace at the Capitol in Salem.

Hoyle, who is a former state representative, said she plans to start addressing the issue immediately by talking with the employees who compiled the report. A key question, she said, is why the investigators didn’t interview legislative leaders Tina Kotek, the House Speaker, and Senate President Peter Courtney.

Their reaction to the investigation Avakian triggered has been less than encouraging.

Only after a judge denied their appeal did Courtney and Kotek turn over documents to Avakian he requested as part of the investigation.

And the two lawmakers did so reluctantly, claiming they were worried about protecting the anonymity of people who complained about sexual harassment.

That’s a reasonable concern, but there’s no reason to believe it’s not possible to protect accusers’ anonymity while still conducting a thorough investigation.

Ultimately, Hoyle’s credibility in enforcing the state’s workplace laws depends on how she deals with the very workplace where those laws are made — the state Capitol.

Oregon residents — including the 375,000 people who voted for Hoyle in the May 2018 primary, which she won outright by receiving more than half the votes — should scrutinize her efforts to continue the important work that Avakian started.

And if Hoyle concludes that the Capitol is a hostile workplace, she needs to ensure that the Legislature faces the same penalties that a private employer would in similar circumstances.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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