Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, called on Republican state Sen. Jeff Kruse to resign after a report by an independent investigator found he repeatedly subjected women to uncomfortable hugging and unwanted touching — sometimes on the Senate floor or in the governor’s office — even after repeated warnings. He did some of these things even while cameras were rolling, the investigator found.
“Senator Kruse’s behavior is not acceptable in the Capitol or any workplace, and he should step down,” Brown said in a statement reported by the Oregonian Tuesday night. “The legislature must immediately take steps to ensure that every person who walks into Oregon’s Capitol is safe and respected, allowing the focus in the capitol to be where it should: on serving the people of Oregon.”
House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, also called for his resignation Tuesday, saying in a statement to KGW 8 that if he doesn’t step down then “the Senate should expel him.”
The 51-page report, compiled by private attorney Dian Rubanoff, found that Kruse exhibited a “longstanding pattern” of “engaging in unwelcome physical contact toward females in the workplace.”
Rubanoff added that though Kruse, 66, was repeatedly confronted about his behavior, “he stubbornly refused to change.” Kruse told Rubanoff, “it’s not easy to change when you have been doing something for 67 years.”
The investigation came after two Democratic Oregon state senators — Sara Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward — publicly accused Kruse of sexual harassment last fall. In her official complaint at the time, Gelser said Kruse touched her inappropriately on the breast and upper thigh both while on the House and Senate floors and in committee hearings. She also said that sometimes he would whisper so closely to her ear, it would be wet when he pulled away. She also alleged that Kruse sexually harassed at least 15 other women.
Rubanoff’s report supported Gelser’s statement and found several new instances of alleged misconduct, including against a lobbyist and two law students who used to work for Kruse, among many others. According to the report, Kruse had a pattern of making women “feel trapped” by his lingering hugs, and he would often place his hands on women either near or partially on their breasts or beneath their waists.
The senator did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday and early Wednesday morning from several publications, including The Washington Post. In October, when asked about some of the allegations, he told the Oregonian, “I have never done anything that I believe anybody could portray as being sexual.”
Kruse was “oblivious” to his behavior until he was specifically asked to stop hugging or touching female legislators and staff in 2016, the report stated. It added that Kruse admitted he did nothing to change his behavior even after the warning, claiming he didn’t know who complained about him, “and he did not want to stop hugging and touching all of them.”
After that, his behavior “actually escalated during the 2017 session,” the report stated.
In one episode, Kruse “cupped the buttocks” of a female lobbyist during a 2017 photo session in the governor’s office, which was crowded with small groups of people. She didn’t initially report the incident because she felt that doing so could be detrimental to her career, given that she “was a new lobbyist and he was a senator.”
In another, Kruse called a female law student who worked in his office during the 2017 session “sexy” and “little girl.” Sometimes, he would walk up behind her while she was seated at her desk, put his hands on her shoulder and place his chin on her head, sometimes for more than 20 seconds.
She didn’t initially report the incident because she too feared it could harm her career.
Hayward said she confronted Kruse about his behavior on Oct. 19, 2017. She asked if he was aware of the #MeToo movement, the accusations against Harvey Weinstein or the Dwayne Johnson test — the idea that if one wouldn’t do something to Johnson, he shouldn’t do it to female colleagues — according to the report.
The report will be considered by the Senate Conduct Committee during a public hearing on Feb. 22, the Oregonian reported. The committee can recommend that the Senate reprimand, censure or expel Kruse — any of which would require a two-thirds majority vote.
If Kruse is expelled for sexual harassment, he won’t be the first in the #MeToo movement. The Arizona House of Representatives voted 56-3 to expel Republican Rep. Don Shooter last Thursday after several women accused him of sexual misconduct, the AP reported.
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