SALEM — State Sen. Jeff Kruse remained defiant and said he will not step down in the wake of an investigative report released Tuesday that said he subjected multiple women at the Capitol to unwanted touching.
House Speaker Tina Kotek and Gov. Kate Brown both called for Kruse’s resignation Tuesday, but Kruse told The News-Review this morning they’re “just playing politics.”
“I have no plan to do anything different than what I’m currently doing,” he said.
Kruse said he is preparing a rebuttal to the investigator’s report for the Senate’s Conduct Committee. However, he said he didn’t want to comment about what his rebuttal would say.
“We’re still in a formal process here. I have significant issues with the report, but we have a time frame to respond to that, and quite honestly I still think it’s inappropriate to be commenting on things while we’re still in a formal process,” he said.
The 51-page report by investigator and employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff was publically released Tuesday night. The investigation was triggered after formal complaints from state Sens. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, alleged a pattern of unwanted touching and sexual harassment by the Roseburg senator. The Conduct Committee is slated to consider the investigative report Feb. 22, according to The Associated Press.
Kruse has maintained his innocence since the allegations first came to light in October 2017, but often told the investigator he could not recall whether incidents the women reported had happened.
“The evidence in this investigation established that Senator 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,” the investigator wrote.
Kruse is widely considered to be a positive contributor to the business of the Senate and voted his conscience, the report concluded, citing interviews with complainants and witnesses.
“I do not believe that Senator Kruse is a bad person, or that he has intended to hurt or offend anyone,” Rubanoff said in her report.
Kotek and Brown on Tuesday called on Kruse to resign or risk being expelled by the Senate in response to the report.
“The third-party investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Jeff Kruse was thorough and fair. It showed a pervasive and persistent pattern of inappropriate and unacceptable behavior that is not permissible for anyone, let alone an elected official,” Kotek said in a press release.
“The people of Oregon and the women who work in the Capitol deserve better. He should resign, and if he chooses not to, the Senate should expel him.”
One of the things that’s clear from the investigation is it wasn’t just Gelser who had issues with Kruse touching her. Multiple women reported a range of contact from unwanted hugs to grabbing a woman’s butt. Some said they thought Kruse was overly friendly but didn’t mean to be sexual, but other reactions included being “creeped out.”
Gelser said she struggled for about a month before deciding to file a formal complaint in November. It was her concern for other women that led her to make the report.
Gelser told legislative counsel in October that she believes Kruse intended to be friendly rather than sexual, and that she didn’t think he realized his actions were unwanted by women. By November, after she heard the story of a law student who had asked to be moved out of Kruse’s office, Gelser began to think Kruse’s actions were more “predatory.”
“She had seen Senator Kruse continuing to touch women in the workplace during the 2017 session, including staffers and lobbyists whose names she didn’t know, and she felt guilty that she was not doing anything about it,” the investigation said.
Legislative staff members who worked with Kruse described incidents like a kiss on the cheek, a hand on the back below the waist, a hand on the thigh, or being hugged and pulled in close. A lobbyist said he cupped her on the buttocks.
Some of the women the investigator interviewed were reluctant to speak. One had to be tracked down and said she was avoiding an interview because she feared repercussions for speaking.
One law student who had wanted to work with Kruse began looking for someone else to work with after a few weeks. She described hugs where Kruse’s hand slid across the bottom of her breast, and said he put his hands on her lower back and gave neck rubs. This student also said “on her first day at the legislature, during the training session, employees made jokes about Senator Kruse being ‘handsy.’” She also said employees talked about Kruse being “on a smoke break” during sexual harassment training.
“She told me that it seemed like everyone at the legislature ‘knew how he acted and didn’t want to do anything about it,’” the report said.
The investigator said Kruse claimed he had no recollection of most of the incidents. The only incident he flatly denied was a claim he had looked at pictures of naked women on his cell phone while on the Senate floor.
“Senator Kruse told me that he’s recently begun to understand that his perception of ‘unwelcome conduct’ may have been wrong, because his intentions are not necessarily the same as the perception of the other person, and he needs to be more aware of how it is received,” the investigator wrote.
He told the investigator, “When you have been doing something for 67 years it’s not easy to change.”
The investigator expressed concern that if Kruse didn’t face serious consequences he’d fall back into his old patterns.
“I am also concerned about the message that will be sent to women in the workplace regarding the futility of coming forward if there are not meaningful consequences for Senator Kruse’s failure to heed the warnings and instructions he received,” she wrote.