Complaints against Oregon lawmaker stretch back years
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon legislator first elected more than two decades ago is facing sanctions after allegations of inappropriate behavior that one female colleague says spanned years.
Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat from the college town of Corvallis, said Sen. Jeff Kruse has harassed many women in the Capitol through prolonged hugs and other unwanted touching.
However, worried about causing a disruption and also about the impact a formal complaint would have on her relationships with other lawmakers, Gelser chose to file an informal complaint two years ago, which led the Legislature's lawyers and human resources to warn Kruse not to touch women in the Capitol.
But he didn't stop, Gelser said.
"What made all of this worse is that not only was I continuing to experience this behavior, but I was witnessing this happen to other women," Gelser wrote in a formal complaint against the Republican senator. "I felt guilty when I watched other women experience this."
Last fall, Gelser publicly identified Kruse as her harasser following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against men in power.
She filed a formal complaint in November, which triggered a requirement that a legislative committee arrange for an outside investigation of her claims. Another lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, also made a formal complaint against Kruse.
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. In Arizona, Republican state Rep. Don Shooter was voted out of office on Feb. 1 after sexual misconduct allegations, becoming 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 an investigator found that he touched and hugged women more than men, and the people who complained were women.
An investigative report made public late Tuesday said Gelser would try to move away or avoid Kruse but didn't feel comfortable telling him that the conduct was unwelcome.
Gelser said that when she was sitting at her desk on the House floor in 2011, where she first served in the Legislature, Kruse leaned onto her back and put his hands and arms down her shoulders and across her breasts.
"I was stunned and frozen," she wrote.
Kruse also groped or gave lingering hugs to two law students who used to work for him, Republican and non-partisan staffers, a former legislative aide and a lobbyist, according to the 51-page investigative report by investigator and employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff. The other women cited in the report who complained weren't named.
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.
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."
Kruse didn't return an email seeking comment from The Associated Press and no one was in his Capitol office on Wednesday.
Kruse, who represents the former timber town of Roseburg, didn't appear on the Senate floor when it convened Wednesday.
The Republican Senate caucus said Wednesday it has accepted Kruse's offer to stay out the Capitol building pending the conclusion of the review.
Several politicians, including Gov. Kate Brown, have said Kruse should resign.
"I hope that he does," Rep. Diego Hernandez, a Democrat from Portland, said Wednesday. "Two weeks (out of) the building is not enough. He needs to resign, and I think there are many folks in this building who feel the same way."
The four-member Committee on Conduct is slated to consider the investigative report on Feb. 22 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 Steiner Hayward
Kruse was stripped of his committee assignments by the Senate president late last year because of the complaints.
Kruse told his hometown newspaper The News-Review he won't step down.
"I have no plan to do anything different than what I'm currently doing," said Kruse. "We're still in a formal process here. I have significant issues with the report."
Sen. Jackie Winters, the Senate Republican leader, has not called for him to go.
Rubanoff wrote that while Kruse engaged in a pattern of conduct that was offensive, "I do not believe that Senator Kruse is a bad person, or that he has intended to hurt or offend anyone."