Kruse responds to allegations
Senior Staff Writer
State Sen. Jeff Kruse said he expects he’ll be back on his Senate committees in two weeks to a month, once everybody’s “jumped through the appropriate hoops.”
“This will all, I’m sure, be totally resolved well before the February session,” he said.
Kruse made headlines around the country this weekend after The Oregonian reported he’d been kicked off all committees soon after a fellow senator suggested on Twitter that someone in the legislature had inappropriately touched her.
Kruse said the first time he heard he was in trouble was in a phone call Friday from Senate President Peter Courtney. Kruse said Courtney was with his chief of staff, people from human resources, and people from the legislative counsel during the call, and that Courtney told him he was under investigation and would be receiving a letter.
Courtney mentioned two allegations against Kruse, one for smoking in the office and one for “inappropriate behavior,” Kruse said.
He said Courtney didn’t define the behavior, and didn’t answer his questions about it. However, Kruse inferred that because of the timing it was likely related to recent tweets from Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis. Gelser made reference to sexual harassment in the legislature, and to inappropriate touching, but didn’t name any names.
Kruse said he’s never inappropriately touched Gelser, and his only interactions with her have been on the Senate floor. The smoking allegation he freely admits.
“I’m fine because in my mind, outside of the smoking, I haven’t done anything wrong. So I’ve got to believe that the truth will win out at some point,” he said.
He said he has no intention of stepping down over the allegations.
“I’ve got too much work to do. I’ve had Democrat colleagues contact me and say we need to get this figured out, you’re too important to the process, as well as Republican colleagues. We’ve got some big issues to deal with, and the chairs of the committees I sit on are counting on me being there,” he said.
Kruse has served in the state legislature more than 20 years. He was first elected to the Oregon House in 1996, and advanced to the Senate in 2004.
Republicans began speculating online after the news came out that this could be a political attack. Kruse said since he’s in mid-term, with his seat not coming up for reelection until 2020, an attack wouldn’t necessarily be designed to take him out. He did speculate that Gelser’s online comments could be related to a tough race he said she will face in November 2018.
“This may be an attempt by her to solidify some things and paint Republicans as evil. I can’t think of any other reason for her to make these allegations in the way she did,” he said.
In addition to losing his seat on Senate committees, Kruse will be losing the door to his office, apparently as a punishment for smoking.
“It’s beyond weird. I’m not sure (Courtney) has the authority to do that, but that’s what he’s going to do,” he said.
Rep. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, said he hasn’t heard any complaints about Kruse from women in the legislature.
“I’m never tolerant of women being treated poorly in any regard, in any place, work or otherwise, and Jeff isn’t either,” he said.
Heard criticized Courtney for pulling Kruse off committees with what he sees as a lack of due process. And he said it’s the voters in Southern Oregon who are getting hurt.
“Why don’t Portland Democrats treat us as Southern Oregonians, rural Oregonians, with a little more respect in how they go about dealing out punishment?” he asked.
Gelser tweeted several times over the past week on the subject of sexual harassment, after Oregon Senate Republican spokesman Jonathan Lockwood accused her of taking campaign donations from Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein, a Hollywood producer under fire for multiple sexual misconduct claims, had donated to Oregon Democrats, but it was about a decade before Gelser was elected.
Gelser re-tweeted a Los Angeles Times story this week on sexual harassment and misconduct in the California legislature, saying “Oregon too.” She also tweeted several times about harassment, including that legislators, staffers and lobbyists should report incidents, and that she was speaking from personal experience. Friday, she tweeted that she was “not naming names, but naming the reality.”
“The person has been called out under the Senate Rule,” she tweeted. “The point is Cap(itol) culture allows this. It must change, not just for me but for all.”
After Kruse’s name had been linked with her tweets, she still wasn’t naming names. Nor did she say anything to suggest Kruse wasn’t involved.
“For public discourse, it’s the behavior not the name that matters,” she tweeted Saturday.
Gelser did not respond to requests for comment Saturday. Neither did Courtney.