Ore. senator stripped of committee duties amid allegations of harassment

FILE- In this Feb. 14, 2012, file photo, Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, speaks at the Capitol in Salem, Ore. Democratic Sen. Sara Gesler, who accused Kruse of inappropriate touching, said Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, that she heard accounts from other women in the Oregon State Capitol of such behavior by men. Kruse, whose committee assignments were removed last week as a punishment, says he hasn't been informed what he's accused of, and that he's been denied due process. (Timothy J. Gonzalez/Statesman-Journal via AP, File)

An Oregon state senator accused of inappropriate touching was removed from his committee assignments Friday by Senate President Peter Courtney, something he calls an unprecedented step.

Senate Republicans confirmed that there is an investigation over allegations that Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) inappropriately touched women in the workplace.

In a letter sent out Friday, Courtney said that Kruse was warned back in March of 2016 “not to touch women at work. Period.”

Since then, Courtney said, two new incidents have been reported regarding his behavior toward women.

In a report from the Associated Press, Kruse says he hasn't been informed what he's accused of and earlier denied any inappropriate behavior.

Kruse had served on committees on education, health care and the judiciary.

Kruse is also accused of smoking inside his office, a violation of the Indoor Clean Air Act. Courtney said he plans to have Kruse’s office door removed on Friday (Oct. 27).

“Your continued smoking demonstrates your disrespect for the laws of the state and the Capitol as a workplace,” said Courtney. “Your behavior exposes the branch to liability and the institution of the Senate to public scorn and charges of hypocrisy.”

Sen. Sara Gelser has said she too has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The Senate Majority Office confirms Sen. Gelser reported in 2016 she'd been inappropriately touched by Sen. Kruse. At this point, the Senate President's office is not confirming who the most recent allegations are coming from. The Senate President's office did say the newest complaints come from two separate women.

On Tuesday afternoon Gov. Kate Brown released a strong statement condemning such behavior and calling for it to be addressed and openly discussed.

"It is all too clear that no workplace or community is immune to them — sadly even in our state capitol," she wrote. "This behavior must be stopped, and I applaud the courage of those who brought these allegations to light."

Brown's full statement:

Recently, we have seen a tidal wave of women speaking out and standing up against harassment, discrimination, and abuse. As examples of these issues have again stoked a national dialogue, it is all too clear that no workplace or community is immune to them — sadly even in our state capitol. This behavior must be stopped, and I applaud the courage of those who brought these allegations to light.
We should also acknowledge the women who everyday are experiencing harassment and for fear of losing their jobs, families, or even lives, are not empowered to take a public stand against it.
This is absolutely unacceptable, and it is long past time for these issues to be openly discussed and directly addressed. Every woman deserves to be respected and has the right to live, work, and simply walk down the street safely.

Below are the full statements from Courtney and Sen. Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli:

Message from Sen. Ferrioli:

We are aware of the letter from President Courtney to Senator Kruse, and the allegations that have been reported. Currently, there is an ongoing investigation into these allegations, which we take seriously. To our knowledge, there has been no formal complaint filed. Upon the conclusion of the investigation we will work within our process to resolve these issues in cooperation with human resources, legislative counsel, caucus leadership, and the Senate President. To respect the privacy of all parties, we will not comment further on the allegations.
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