Oregon Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, resigned Thursday just days after a damning report indicated he groped fellow female legislators and others over the past several years — and two days after he said he would not give up his seat.
He is the second state elected official in the U.S. to be forced out of office since the #MeToo campaign that brought to the public’s attention the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.
A formal investigation was initiated after Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, filed a formal complaint about Kruse.
“Senator Kruse’s resignation is long overdue,” said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, who also filed a formal complaint. “The detail in the formal complaints made in November should have been compelling enough for him to recognize the inappropriateness of his behavior.
“I am relieved he has finally acknowledged the correct course of action,” she continued.” His resignation will allow the many victims to begin healing, the Senate to move forward with the people’s business and his constituents to once again have representation in the legislature.
“I hope the thoroughness of the independent investigation will empower other women to speak up when they are subjected to harassment.”
Kruse will leave the Senate March 15.
Per state law, Republican precinct committee members from the five counties in District 1, including Curry County, will put together a slate of three to five nominees to fill Kruse’s vacant seat, according to a state website. County commissioners from each county will then cast votes; the votes are weighted to reflect the population within the district.
Thursday, a group of 125 lobbyists, politicians and organizations — including Basic Rights Oregon, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon and some unions — said Kruse needs to step down, as his staying in office would “dismiss the bravery of and disrespect” the women who stood up to him.
A ‘huggy person’
A 51-page investigation compiled by Dian Rubanoff of the law firm Peck Rubanoff & Hatfield and released early this week, cites numerous incidents of Kruse giving “lingering side hugs,” kissing women on the check and whispering so close that his lips touched their ears. He is accused of putting his hand on women’s legs for uncomfortable periods of time and “complimenting” women on certain outfits they wore to work.
Kruse still denies the allegations.
A law student during the 2017 session said he made the work environment so toxic, she asked to be relocated to another office.
“He called her ‘little girl,’ … he told her she was ‘sexy,’” the report reads. “Sometimes his hand would extend down to her upper breast. He would come up behind her at her desk and put his hands on her shoulders and rest his chin on top of her head. This might last for 20 seconds, and she would ‘sit very still and wait for it to be over.’”
They described his actions as “zero space between them,” and that they felt trapped by a “lingering closeness.” Kruse said he is a “huggy person.”
Many citizens in Cedar Valley north of Gold Beach, too, were aghast when Kruse, on the Senate floor in 2016 and talking about an illegal chemical spraying over their homes, said he knew “those people” and implied they were nothing more than alcoholics and drug users.
They demanded an apology from the Senate floor, which was never given, although he did email some of them to apologize.
When asked by the investigator why she didn’t tell Kruse he made her feel uncomfortable, Gelser said he was an ally on policy issues important to her and she didn’t want to alienate him. She filed a formal complaint last November.
“She told me she struggled with the decision and considered it for about a month,” Rubanoff wrote. “She had seen Sen. Kruse continuing to touch women in the workplace during the 2017 session, including staffers and lobbyists ... and she felt guilty that she was not doing anything about it.”
Gelser also wonders how women will feel safe in the next five weeks until Kruse leaves.
The report indicated his behavior was generally accepted in the state Capitol. Kruse also said he was “taking measures” to change the way he presents himself to women, but women said they didn’t feel anything had changed.
“He admits that he has a lot of work still to do in order to change his ‘instinctive’ behavior, talked about ‘falling back into old patterns’ as an explanation for not changing his behavior after the informal reports in 2016, and that ‘it’s not easy to change when you have been doing something for 67 years.’
“His continued conduct toward Sens. Gelser and Steiner Hayward appears to be part of a pattern of refusing to heed warnings and conform to important policies, similar to his continued smoking violations,” Rubanoff wrote. “I am concerned that if Sen. Kruse is allowed to stay in the legislature without specific conditions he needs to satisfy, and if there is not a continuing prospect of serious consequences if he fails to satisfy those conditions, he may ‘fall back into old patterns again.’”
Rubanoff wrote in the report that she was concerned about the message it could send if nothing is done or if Kruse merely received a mild punishment for the alleged misbehavior.