Oregon lawmaker accused of harassment says he won’t resign
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon state lawmaker accused of groping women defied calls to resign Wednesday after telling investigators his behavior was “instinctual” and hard to change.
Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Republican who represents the former timber town of Roseburg, was away from work as Gov. Kate Brown and other Democratic lawmakers urged him to step down a day after an investigative report detailed several allegations that he subjected two female senators to unwanted touching and gave lingering hugs to many woman.
The report included video showing him leaning in closely to a colleague and touching her in a Senate committee room.
“I have no plan to do anything different than what I’m currently doing,” Kruse told his hometown newspaper The News-Review. “We’re still in a formal process here. I have significant issues with the report.”
However Wednesday afternoon the Republican Senate caucus said it had accepted an offer from Kruse that he stay away from the Capitol building pending the conclusion of the investigation.
A Senate panel will hold a hearing on the matter on Feb. 22.
Kruse didn’t return an email seeking comment from The Associated Press.
The investigation is one of many in statehouses nationwide following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against men in power since an October expose of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein by the New York Times.
On Feb. 1, Republican Arizona Rep. Don Shooter became the first state lawmaker in the U.S. to be expelled since the #MeToo movement gained steam.
Kruse is accused of harassment but generally not of a sexual nature, though the investigator found that he touched and hugged women more than men, and the people who complained were women.
Kruse told the investigator that he believed his behavior was “instinctual” and that although he wanted to change, “It’s not easy to change when you have been doing something for 67 years.”
Sen. Sara Gelser, one of the accusers, “did not think that Senator Kruse’s actions were sexual, just overly familiar and unwanted contact,” the report said.
The four-member Committee on Conduct is slated to consider the investigative report later this month and must make a recommendation that Kruse be reprimanded, censured, expelled, or that no action be taken, committee chairman Sen. Mark Hass told Kruse, Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, the other senator who made a formal complaint.
“You may submit documents, physical evidence and suggest witnesses to testify,” Hass, a Democrat from the Portland suburb of Beaverton, said in a letter Tuesday. Besides Hass, two Republicans and one other Democrat sit on the committee.
The 51-page investigative report was written by investigator and employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff.
“Kruse has engaged in a pattern of conduct that was offensive to Senator Gelser and Senator Steiner Hayward, as well as other legislators and employees at the Capitol,” Rubanoff wrote. “I do not believe that Senator Kruse is a bad person, or that he has intended to hurt or offend anyone.”
Kruse was advised in 2016 to stop hugging female legislators and staff members and leaning in close to talk to them, but he ignored that and even escalated the behavior in 2017, the report said.
Two video clips, one from the Senate floor and one from a hearing room, presented as part of the report showed Kruse leaning in close to a female senator who appears to be Gelser and putting his hands on her.
The report also revealed misconduct by Kruse against a House member, a third female senator, two law students who used to work for him, Republican and non-partisan staffers, a former legislative aide and a lobbyist. Those women weren’t named in the report.
One of the law students told the investigator that Kruse would call her “little girl” and tell her she was “sexy” while at work in the Capitol. She also told the investigator that Kruse subjected her to “a lot of hugging” and would grab her and pull her into a tight hug at least twice a week.
The student told investigators that she didn’t speak up about it because she was “terrified” how it might affect her career.
Multiple staffers in the Senate Republicans caucus office told Rubanoff that Kruse had grabbed them and pulled them in or wrapped his arms around them.
Kruse told Rubanoff he realized his perspective needed to change after he attended one hour of counseling last December.
A Republican member of the House who represents part of the same area in Oregon as Kruse, joined the call Wednesday for the senator to resign..
“It’s clear after reading the investigative report that Senator Kruse can no longer be an effective leader for his district, and for rural Oregon,” said Rep. Cedric Hayden.
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com