Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, continues to insist he will not resign his seat, despite a new, detailed report from an outside investigator saying he groped multiple women, including three senators, a House member and two law students who worked for him, along with other Capitol staffers. Kruse should do the right thing and spare the rest of the Oregon Legislature the disruption of a Senate Conduct Committee hearing and a potential Senate vote to remove him.
Kruse was first accused of sexual harassment last year when Sens. Sara Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward went public with allegations that he repeatedly subjected them to inappropriate and unwanted physical contact on the Senate floor and in committee hearings. Gelser said the conduct dated back to 2011, and she complained informally to Senate leaders, who admonished Kruse and told him to stop. Gelser went public when the conduct continued.
Senate President Peter Courtney stripped Kruse of all of his committee assignments, leaving him unable to participate in shaping legislation. Courtney also ordered the door to Kruse's office removed because Kruse refused to stop smoking there in violation of Capitol rules. That obstinance mirrored Kruse's response to the harassment allegations.
Investigator Dian Rubanoff, an employment law attorney, filed a 51-page report that was released late Tuesday. Rubanoff not only documented accounts from multiple woman of unwanted touching by Kruse, she wrote that the behavior actually "escalated" after he was warned to stop.
Kruse told Rubanoff that he never considered his behavior sexual in nature. The women clearly disagreed. And the power differential between a sitting senator and female staff members left them unwilling to come forward to complain for fear of damaging their careers.
The saddest part of all of this is that, except for his abominable behavior toward women, Kruse has a reputation as a capable legislator who votes his conscience, according to Rubanoff's report. She wrote that, “I do not believe that Senator Kruse is a bad person, or that he has intended to hurt or offend anyone.”
This is clearly a case of a man in a powerful position who just doesn't get it. Kruse disputes the report's findings, telling the Roseburg News-Review he has "significant issues" with it and is preparing a rebuttal.
As long as Kruse refuses to resign, the matter will go before the Conduct Committee, but not until Feb. 22, two more weeks into a five-week legislative session. A committee recommendation would come sometime after that, potentially followed by a Senate floor debate over whether to expel Kruse. In the meantime, his Roseburg constituents are left with a lawmaker who can't make laws.
Gov. Kate Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek on Tuesday called for Kruse to resign. He responded that the two Democrats were "playing politics." But without committee assignments, all Kruse can do is play at being a legislator — and his term runs through 2020.
On Wednesday, Kruse's Roseburg-area colleague Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, also called for him to step down.
Kruse should spare his colleagues and the voters he represents the spectacle of a disgraced senator distracting the Legislature from doing the public's business and resign.