Oregon state Sen. Jeff Kruse (R), under fire for alleged sexual harassment of female colleagues and employees, announced his resignation Thursday.
“I continue to deny these allegations,” Kruse said in a statement reported by Oregon media. “However, today I tender my resignation so my colleagues may focus on serving Oregonians without distraction and my constituents receive the fullest representation they are due.” His resignation is effective March 15, which will allow him to finish out the legislative session.
He is at least the 15th state legislator in the country to be forced from office either through resignation or expulsion in the months since the #MeToo movement got going, according to the Associated Press.
Kruse also faced possible expulsion had he not resigned.
Kruse was pressed to step down 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,” Gov. Kate Brown (D) 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 (D) 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.” She expressed dismay Thursday that he was delaying his departure. “The fact that Senator Kruse is dictating the terms of his departure is exactly what’s wrong with the power dynamic that exists at the Capitol,” she tweeted.
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 — Sen. Sara Gelser and Sen. 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.
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 story has been updated.
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