Sen. Sara Gelser has named Sen. Jeff Kruse as the person who allegedly inappropriately touched her. She told The Oregonian on Monday that it had been happening for years.
Kruse, R-Roseburg, told The News-Review he doesn’t recall giving Gelser anything more than a side hug. He said that doesn’t seem inappropriate to him.
Kruse was stripped of all committee assignments Friday, a move that effectively bars him from introducing or influencing legislation. At the time, Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat, suggested “ongoing workplace issues” were involved. One of them was Kruse’s long, and admitted, habit of smoking in his office. But press reports almost immediately linked the discipline against Kruse with tweets from Gelser, D-Corvallis, who mentioned personal experience with having been inappropriately touched by a fellow senator, and indicated she had reported such conduct to the Senate.
Gelser’s comments to The Oregonian Monday confirmed the connection.
Kruse told The News-Review he still has not received any official word detailing the accusations against him.
“I still don’t have a lot of information. They still aren’t telling me anything,” he said.
Kruse said if he knew what he was accused of, he’d be happy to apologize and not do it again. He did say he had a conversation with human resources a year and a half ago about respecting boundaries.
Gelser mentioned groping in one of her tweets. Kruse said he’s never groped Gelser, and that she never said anything to him about feeling he’d violated her boundaries.
“If somebody is stretching your comfort level, why wouldn’t you say something to them, rather than make a big political thing about it?” he asked.
He said he’s heard more about what he’s accused of from the newspapers than he has from the Senate, and what he’s read suggests this is more about boundary issues than anything of a sexual nature.
“I’m assuming at this point you cannot touch a woman on her shoulder, or you cannot whisper in her ear, or anything like that,” he said.
Kruse responds to allegations
The Oregonian quoted Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick Monday saying she saw Kruse wrap his arms around Gelser at her desk on the Senate floor. She also said she had seen Kruse step inappropriately close to Burdick during a debate.
Burdick also told The Oregonian she recalled saying, “Get your hands off Sen. Gelser.”
Kruse said it’s his understanding that no formal complaint had been filed, that an investigation is ongoing, and that about nine people had been interviewed. If there’s no formal complaint, he said he doesn’t know if he’ll get due process.
He said Courtney, as Senate president, can remove senators from committees, but in his 20 years in the legislature, he doesn’t ever recall anyone being stripped of all their committees.
“I’m willing to do whatever’s necessary to respect people’s boundaries and try to make everybody OK again, but they aren’t even telling me exactly what it is at this point,” he said.
The Associated Press reported Courtney’s spokesman Robin Maxey as saying the senator knew his behavior needed to change.
“There are ongoing workplace issues which Senator Kruse has failed to resolve. As a result, the Senate President took the action Friday to remove Senator Kruse from his committees,” spokesman Robin Maxey said in an email to AP.
Courtney and Maxey did not respond to The News-Review’s requests for comment. Neither did Gelser.
Kruse serves Senate District 1, which covers Roseburg and South County, including Winston, Myrtle Creek and Canyonville. It also covers Curry County and rural portions of Coos, Jackson and Josephine Counties.