Kruse to stay away from Capitol during probe

State legislators continued Wednesday to call for the resignation of Sen. Jeff Kruse — the Roseburg Republican whose district includes a portion of northeast Jackson County.

Those calls followed the publication of an investigation that concluded he inappropriately touched several female lawmakers and groped other women at the Oregon Capitol.

Among those calling for Kruse’s resignation is state Rep. Cedric Hayden, a Republican who also represents Roseburg, which makes up half of Kruse's district.

"It's clear after reading the investigative report that Senator Kruse can no longer be an effective leader for his district, and for rural Oregon," Hayden said in a statement.

"The people of his district, and Roseburg, a community we both represent, are being shortchanged,” Hayden continued. “Moreover, women in our Capitol – lawmakers, advocates, and the visiting public - need to know that the elected leaders in our state will not tolerate an environment where their safety is at risk."

Kruse, who has thus far refused calls for him to step down, has agreed to stay away from the Capitol until his conduct committee hearing, scheduled for February 22.

Kruse wrote to two fellow senators last month that he was sorry for touching them inappropriately and that he was working to change his behavior towards women.

"I am writing to offer an apology for making you feel uncomfortable in the past when I have talked to you on the [Senate] floor or in committees," Kruse wrote to Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, in a letter dated January 3. "While I disagree with many of your allegations against me, this whole process has made me realize that I do have a problem with getting into people's personal space when talking to them."

He sent a very similarly worded letter to Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward the same day.

In his letter to Gelser, Kruse continued, "I also admit I am a huggy person. In the past, I didn't see this as inappropriate, but now I realize that I shouldn't hug people at work." He also wrote that he is committed to changing his behavior and has taken steps to do that.

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

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."

The four-member Committee on Conduct is slated to consider the investigative report later this month and must make a recommendation that Kruse be reprimanded, censured, expelled, or that no action be taken.

Sen. Tim Knopp became the first Republican senator to call for Kruse to resign. "I believe the women who came forward to share these painful incidents that happened to them," said Knopp, of Bend.

He said senators sitting on a special conduct committee have "no choice" but to recommend Kruse's expulsion from the Senate if he does not resign. Knopp said he believes Kruse has not been contrite and he would vote to expel Kruse if given the chance.

Republican senators spent most of the day in their caucus room on the third floor of the Capitol, debating what to do about Kruse.

The investigation report "stands on its own," the Republican caucus said in its statement, acknowledging that its findings are "serious."

The statement said in part: "The behavior alleged in the report, if true, is obviously not acceptable to the Senate Republican caucus. 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."

The investigator, employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff, concluded that Gelser and Steiner Hayward's allegations were supported by reliable, as were those of other unnamed women: another state senator, a state representative, a lobbyist, two law students, a legislative aide and Republican and non-partisan Capitol staff.

Many reported they felt they could not report him for fear it would hurt their careers or that nothing would be done because his conduct went unchecked so long.

"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 in her report. "I do not believe that Senator Kruse is a bad person, or that he has intended to hurt or offend anyone."

— Material from The Oregonian/ and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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