In a letter dated Friday, Oct. 20, state Senate President Peter Courtney told Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, he was not to touch women at work.
Courtney wrote that Kruse had been warned in March about touching women at work, and that the behavior remained unchanged.
“Continuing to touch women at work is inappropriate workplace conduct of which you have already been warned. Let me be very clear. Women in the Capitol do NOT want you to touch them,” he wrote.
The letter, made available to the media Tuesday, gave no specifics about what type of touching is alleged, or who had made the allegations.
It does reference “two new incidents” Courtney said were brought to his attention, and The Oregonian reported this morning that the Senate majority leader and legislative counsel both said they were aware of at least two women who had reported incidents of unwanted physical contact with Kruse.
The letter also said Kruse had repeatedly broken the law by smoking in his office or in the capitol garage, and went on to say he had been fined twice by the Oregon Health Authority.
“Your continued smoking in the Capitol building as recently as September Legislative Days demonstrates your disrespect for the laws of the state and the Capitol as a workplace. Your behavior exposes the branch to liability an the institution of the Senate to public scorn and charges of hypocrisy,” Courtney wrote.
The letter said Kruse’s office door would be removed Oct. 27, in an effort to prevent future smoking there.
It also referred to Kruse’s removal from all committee assignments.
“This is an unprecedented step for me as Senate President,” the letter said. “I have never taken this kind of action before but I am left with no other options at this time to protect our employees, members of the legislature and the public,” he wrote.
Kruse made national headlines after The Oregonian reported Friday that Kruse had been kicked off his committees shortly after Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, alleged on Twitter that she had been inappropriately touched by a fellow senator. Gelser did not initially name names, but told The Oregonian Monday that Kruse was the person she had reported.
When interviewed by The News-Review on Saturday, Kruse said that he knew he was kicked off his committees and would lose his door. He also said he had been told he would receive a letter. He admitted to smoking at the capitol, but denied inappropriate touching. He also said he did not know what exactly the touching allegation was.
Kruse also told The News-Review he thought this might be a political attack, an attempt by Gelser to “paint Republicans as evil.”
On Monday, Kruse added that he’d never done more than give Gelser a side hug, and mentioned he had a previous conversation with human resources about respecting boundaries. He also said if he knew what he was accused of, he’d be happy to apologize and not do it again.
According to the letter, Employee Services Manager Lore Christopher and Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson instructed Kruse in March that he was “not to touch women at work. Period.”
Kruse has served in the legislature 20 years and is among the Senate’s most influential Republicans. His removal from committees means his district — which includes Roseburg, South County, Curry County and rural portions of Coos, Jackson and Josephine counties — will have less influence in the Senate. He will still be able to vote on bills that reach the Senate floor, and to introduce legislation, but he’ll be less able to push that legislation through to a committee vote that’s a prerequisite to being heard by the full Senate.
The News-Review’s emailed questions to Courtney seeking clarification about the type of touching alleged, due process, and allegations about political motivations behind the disciplinary action have gone unanswered, and phone calls to his office were not returned.
Kruse has said he does not intend to resign. He did not return calls seeking additional comment Tuesday evening or this morning.