SALEM, Ore. — An Oregon state senator resigned Thursday after an investigation determined he had harassed multiple women in the Capitol building with prolonged hugging, groping and other unwelcome physical contact.
Sen. Jeff Kruse said in a statement he denies the allegations, but is stepping down so his colleagues may focus on serving Oregonians without distraction.
An investigative report released Tuesday documented allegations that he harassed female colleagues while talking to them in public areas of the Senate.
The investigation was one of many in statehouses nationwide following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against men in power since an October expose of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein by the New York Times. In Arizona, Republican state Rep. Don Shooter was voted out of office on Feb. 1 after sexual misconduct allegations, becoming the first state lawmaker in the U.S. to be expelled since the #MeToo movement gained steam.
Several politicians, including Gov. Kate Brown, had called for Kruse’s resignation.
Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat from the college town of Corvallis, said Kruse harassed many women in the Capitol through prolonged hugs and other unwanted touching.
However, worried about causing a disruption and also about the impact a formal complaint would have on her relationships with other lawmakers, Gelser chose to file an informal complaint two years ago, which led the Legislature’s lawyers and human resources to warn Kruse not to touch women in the Capitol.
But he didn’t stop, Gelser said.
Last fall, Gelser publicly identified Kruse as her harasser following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against men in power.
She filed a formal complaint in November, which triggered a requirement that a legislative committee arrange for an outside investigation of her claims. Another lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, also made a formal complaint against Kruse.
Kruse was accused of harassment but generally not of a sexual nature, though an investigator found that he touched and hugged women more than men, and the people who complained were women.
An investigative report made public late Tuesday said Gelser would try to move away or avoid Kruse but didn’t feel comfortable telling him that the conduct was unwelcome.
Gelser said that when she was sitting at her desk on the House floor in 2011, where she first served in the Legislature, Kruse leaned onto her back and put his hands and arms down her shoulders and across her breasts.
Kruse also groped or gave lingering hugs to two law students who used to work for him, Republican and non-partisan staffers, a former legislative aide and a lobbyist, according to the 51-page investigative report by investigator and employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff. The other women cited in the report who complained weren’t named.
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.”
Kruse, who represents the former timber town of Roseburg, didn’t appear on the Senate floor when it convened Wednesday.
He was stripped of his committee assignments by the Senate president late last year because of the complaints.
Associated Press writer Tom James contributed to this report.
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