Sen. Kruse won't resign but will stay out of Capitol amid harassment allegations

FILE- In this Feb. 14, 2012, file photo, Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, speaks at the Capitol in Salem, Ore. (Timothy J. Gonzalez/Statesman-Journal via AP, File)

Embattled Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Republican from Roseburg, will stay out of the Capitol until the investigation into allegations that he harassed women there have been completed, Senate Republicans said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a report from an independent investigator on Kruse’s conduct was released. The investigator found that he engaged in a pattern of harassment toward two female state senators as well as other women at the Capitol.

The report also found that even after he was warned about his behavior, Kruse escalated it.

Despite calls from Gov. Kate Brown, House Speaker Tina Kotek and other lawmakers to resign, Kruse told his hometown newspaper the News-Review that he doesn’t plan to do that.

“We’re still in a formal process here. I have significant issues with the report,” he said.

The report detailed several allegations that he subjected Sens. Sara Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward to unwanted touching and gave lingering hugs to many women.

Both senators filed formal complaints against Kruse.

The report also included video showing him leaning in closely to a colleague and touching her in a Senate committee room.

In a statement Senate Republicans said Kruse offered to say out of the Capitol pending the outcome of the process. They said they accepted his offer.

"The behavior alleged in the report, if true, is obviously not acceptable to the Senate Republican caucus," they wrote. "This is why we have accepted Senator Kruse's, a 22-year veteran of the Oregon legislature offer to leave the Capitol building, taking with him the opportunity to represent his district pending the conclusion of the process."

Kruse is accused of harassment but generally not of a sexual nature, though the investigator found that he touched and hugged women more than men, and the people who complained were women.

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."

Gelser "did not think that Senator Kruse's actions were sexual, just overly familiar and unwanted contact," the report said.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Gelser said she was stunned by the results and "shocked and heartbroken to learn the full extent of the abuse young women experienced at the hands of Senator Kruse."

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.

"You may submit documents, physical evidence and suggest witnesses to testify," Hass, a Democrat from the Portland suburb of Beaverton, said in a letter Tuesday. Besides Hass, two Republicans and one other Democrat sit on the committee.

There are three ways to remove Kruse from the Senate.

He could resign. Then the Republican Party through a county commissioning process -- could find a replacement. Because Kruse is midterm, the replacement would be considered for special election in November. The process is very similar to how Gov. Kate Brown replaced former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Secondly, Senate Republicans can vote to expel Kruse.

"It's not happened in the seven years that I have been here," House Republican Julie Parrish told KATU, "so, I'm not sure that that will happen."

Third, Kruse's voters could file for a recall.

"That would have to come from people on his own community," Parrish said.

The 51-page investigative report was written by investigator and employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff.

"Kruse has engaged in a pattern of conduct that was offensive to Senator Gelser and Senator Steiner Hayward, as well as other legislators and employees at the Capitol," Rubanoff wrote. "I do not believe that Senator Kruse is a bad person, or that he has intended to hurt or offend anyone."

Kruse was advised in 2016 to stop hugging female legislators and staff members and leaning in close to talk to them, but he ignored that and even escalated the behavior in 2017, the report said.

Two video clips, one from the Senate floor and one from a hearing room, presented as part of the report showed Kruse leaning in close to a female senator who appears to be Gelser and putting his hands on her.

The report also revealed misconduct by Kruse against a House member, a third female senator, two law students who used to work for him, Republican and non-partisan staffers, a former legislative aide and a lobbyist. Those women weren't named in the report.

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.

Multiple staffers in the Senate Republicans caucus office told Rubanoff that Kruse had grabbed them and pulled them in or wrapped his arms around them.

Kruse told Rubanoff he realized his perspective needed to change after he attended one hour of counseling last December.

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