Oregon state Sen. Jeff Kruse resigns amid harassment allegations by female colleagues
Under mounting pressure, state Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Republican from Roseburg, resigned Thursday after being accused by multiple women of harassment at the state Capitol in Salem.
His resignation came after an independent investigator found Kruse engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior, and after Gov. Kate Brown and other lawmakers, including at least two lawmakers in his own party, called for him to step down.
Even after Kruse was warned in 2016, the investigator found that his inappropriate behavior escalated, and the investigator's report, released Tuesday, revealed that Kruse also harassed two law students who worked in his office as well as a young lobbyist.
In his resignation statement Kruse continued to deny the allegations.
“I tender my resignation so my colleagues may focus on serving Oregonians without distraction and my constituents may receive the fullest representation they are due,” he said.
Sens. Sara Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward filed formal complaints against Kruse, accusing him of unwanted touching. Gelser accused him of touching her breasts, putting his hand on her thigh, kissing her on the cheek and whispering in her ear until it became wet. Steiner Hayward accused Kruse of hugging her too close and for too long, putting his hand on her thigh and sitting so close to her that their legs touched.
Sens. Gelser and Steiner Hayward React to Resignation
In an interview with KATU News at the Capitol, Gelser said she was pleased that Kruse had resigned, but was unhappy it wasn't immediate. It is effective March 15. She said she was concerned that other women in the Capitol would be vulnerable until then.
She also said that Kruse, in his resignation statement, suggested the women weren't telling the truth and the Republican caucus was sending a message in its statement that there was room for doubting the allegations.
"They're true," Gelser said about the allegations. "And those women, I'm not talking about the other senator and I, I'm talking about the unnamed women (in the report), some of whom are staff members in that caucus, need to know that their leaders believe them,” she said. "We cannot fix things, we cannot change the workplace until we start believing the women and responding more quickly and creating a process that is more focused and centered on the experiences of those who experience harassment rather than those who commit it.”
(Watch an extensive interview with Sen. Gelser after Kruse announced his resignation)
In a statement, Steiner Hayward said Kruse's resignation was long overdue.
“I am relieved that he has finally acknowledged the correct course of action. His resignation will allow the many victims identified through the investigation to begin their healing; the Senate to move forward with the people’s business; and his constituents to once again have representation in the Legislature," she said. “I am hopeful that the thoroughness of the independent investigation will empower other women to speak up when they are subjected to harassment.”
The Senate's Committee on Conduct was scheduled to hold a hearing on the report on Feb. 22 and then decide what actions, if any, would be taken against the senator. In his statement, Kruse said now that he has resigned he regretted that he wouldn't be able to defend himself before that committee.
On Wednesday, Senate Republicans agreed to Kruse's offer to stay out of the Capitol until the process was complete.
Following Kruse's announcement that he was resigning, Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat from Salem, said Kruse did the right thing.
“The report of the independent investigator released earlier this week made it clear that his inappropriate conduct went far beyond what is alleged in the formal complaints. Just as I believed Senators Gelser and Steiner Hayward in 2016 and again last fall, I believed the report," Courtney said in a statement. “While Senator Kruse’s resignation ends a difficult chapter for the Legislature, we cannot allow it to end this discussion. We owe it to the courageous women who came forward to seize this moment."
Because of the allegations, Courtney stripped Kruse of all his committee assignments late last year.
Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, told KATU during an on-air phone interview that she was surprised Kruse resigned because he had been so steadfast in his desire to remain a senator.
"But I have to say that I thank him for the decency to do it," she said. "It is a distraction to have this going on (during this month's legislative session), and when you got somebody who is not able to be on committees or be present for floor votes, (his constituents) deserve to have representation while we're down here in the building."
Parrish thanked Kruse for his service to the state of Oregon and said he was a good policymaker.
In his statement, Kruse said he was proud of his accomplishments as a lawmaker in the areas of health care and education.
"I look forward to returning to the wonderful community that has supported me for over two decades," he said.
Kruse served as a lawmaker in Salem for 22 years.
Douglas County commissioners will select Kruse's replacement. That person will need to be a Republican.
KATU Reporter Chris Liedle contributed.
Kruse’s full statement:
For civil rights to be meaningful, there must be civil rights for all people, including the right to fundamental fairness for persons accused of harassment.
In recent weeks there have been allegations that I harassed female colleagues while talking to them in public areas of the Senate. I continue to deny these allegations and I regret that I will not have the opportunity to defend myself before the Senate Conduct Committee. However, today I tender my resignation so my colleagues may focus on serving Oregonians without distraction and my constituents may receive the fullest representation they are due.
Serving the people of Curry and portions of Coos, Douglas, Josephine and Jackson counties for the past 22 years has been the greatest honor of my life. I have been proud to serve alongside my colleagues in the Oregon House and Senate, and I am very proud of my accomplishments in healthcare and education. I look forward to returning to the wonderful community that has supported me for over two decades.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward's full statement:
Senator Kruse’s resignation is long overdue. The detail in the formal complaints made in November by Senator Gelser and myself should have been compelling enough for him to recognize the inappropriateness of his behavior.
I am relieved that he has finally acknowledged the correct course of action. His resignation will allow the many victims identified through the investigation to begin their healing; the Senate to move forward with the people’s business; and his constituents to once again have representation in the Legislature.
I am hopeful that the thoroughness of the independent investigation will empower other women to speak up when they are subjected to harassment.
Statement from Senate Republican Leader Jackie Winters:
Senator Kruse has tendered his resignation today, effective March 15, 2018. I want to thank him for his 22 years of service to Oregon. He has been a true advocate for his district and rural Oregon. As we move forward, we must work to provide a safe work environment for all.
Statement from the Oregon Republican Party:
After reviewing the 51 page State Senate requested investigatory report, we agree it is appropriate for Sen. Jeff Kruse to resign, which he has done today. It is an unfortunate end to Sen. Kruse's distinguished 22 year tenure with the State Legislature. However, it has also very unfortunate for all those cited in the report who were the victims of the alleged conduct described, which mustn't be permitted to occur in any facet of our society, especially in the halls of our State Capitol. Our sympathies are with these victims. We hope that this conclusion serves as a fair and impartial standard going forward that also applies to politicians like Neil Goldschmidt, Sam Adams, Bill Clinton, etc. Now, the legislature must earnestly resume work on the pressing issues that face the citizens of our great state, like the PERS spending crisis.