Sen. Gelser on Kruse report: 'Kruse needs to leave'

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) -- Facing mounting pressure from top Oregon lawmakers to resign in the wake of a damning report from an independent investigator, State Sen. Jeff Kruse remains defiant.

Kruse, accused of a longstanding pattern of unwanted physical contact with many women at the state Capitol, told the Roseburg News-Review that he will not step down.

Two state senators, Sara Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward, publicly accused Kruse of sexual misconduct last fall. They said he subjected them to unwanted touching and inappropriate close contact.

Gelser sat down and talked with KOIN 6 News on Wednesday. She said Rubanoff's report on Kruse was "comprehensive and fair." She called on Kruse to step down.

"It speaks for itself," she said. "And only one thing can happen now, and that is that Sen. Kruse needs to leave the senate and whether he makes that decision on his own or whether we as a senate (make the decision), make it clear that conduct is not acceptable here. That is the only appropriate outcome."

On Tuesday, after the report was released, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and Governor Kate Brown also called for Kruse's resignation. 

On Wednesday, Republican State Representative Julie Parrish echoed those calls for Kruse to step down. 

"I think we've gone beyond the point where Senator Kruse can be effective," Parrish told KOIN 6 News. "Rural Oregon needs champions, and not someone who's hamstrung by these allegations." 

Republican State Representative Cedric Hayden also called for Kruse to resign on Wednesday. 

 “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,” stated Representative Hayden.  “The people of his district, and Roseburg, a community we both represent, are being shortchanged. 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.

“It’s discouraging to see news reports that Senator Kruse is digging in on this issue,” said Rep. Hayden.  “I appreciate that the report acknowledged Senator Kruse’s good work on public policy, but that shouldn’t be a factor in the decision to remove him from office.”

Investigator Dian Rubanoff concluded Kruse created a hostile workplace because of his actions. In her report, Kruse said he had no recollection of most of the alleged misdeeds and explained his behavior was "instinctual." He also said that although he wanted to change, "it's not easy to change when you've been doing something for 67 years."

That "something" included calling a law student sexy and "little girl," plus a lot of unwanted hugging and touching.

"The behavior was troubling," Gelser said. "It was substantiated by the investigator. Her findings found that it was an ongoing patter of unwanted behavior -- and it needs to stop."

The State Senate Republican Caucus released a statement on Wednesday, saying Kruse will not be in the capitol building pending the conclusion of the process. The statement said "the matter is now in the hands of the Senate Committee on Conduct," which will make a ruling on Kruse on Feb. 22.

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

The report alleges inappropriate conduct from Kruse dating back to 2011. He was warned about his behavior back in 2016, but the report said Kruse "stubbornly refused to change that behavior." Gelser said action should have been taken faster.

"We need to be able to respond more quickly so that we don't end up having more victims when we know that we have a problem," Gelser said. 

"We have to take those reports seriously. We have to act quickly. And we have to really improve our process so that we are able to act quickly to keep people safe."

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